Special Investigations Team Sought in Orissa Violence


Acquittals increasingly surpass convictions due to shoddy or corrupt police investigators.

NEW DELHI, December 7 (CDN) — Christian leaders in India have called for a special investigations team to counter the shoddy or corrupt police investigations into anti-Christian violence in Orissa state in August-September 2008.

Of the 100 cases handled by two-fast track courts, 32 have been heard as of Nov. 30, resulting in 48 convictions and more than 164 acquittals. A legislator for the main Hindu extremist party has been exonerated “for lack of evidence” in six cases, most of them involving murder charges. The number of cases registered total 787.

“Christians are extremely shocked by this travesty of justice in Orissa,” attorney Bibhu Dutta Das told Compass.

The government of Orissa set up two fast-track courts in Kandhamal district headquarters for cases related to the violence that began in August 2008 after the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his disciples in Jalespetta on Aug. 23, 2008. The chief minister of Orissa state has admitted that Hindu extremist umbrella group Sangh Parivar was involved in the anti-Christian violence (see sidebar below), and Christian leaders have said they are increasingly concerned over verdicts in the fast-track courts based in Phulbani.

Among those exonerated “for lack of evidence” was Manoj Pradhan, a legislator from the Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who was acquitted of murder on Nov. 24. He was accused of killing Trinath Digal of Tiangia village on Aug. 25, 2008.

Thus far, Pradhan has been cleared in six of 14 cases against him.

“Manoj Pradhan has been let off in all the major cases against him, mostly murder cases, for lack of evidence,” attorney Das told Compass. “Now only small cases of arson remain against him.”

Attorneys said acquittals have resulted from police investigations that were intentionally defective to cover up for Hindu extremist attackers. In many cases, for example, police have fraudulently misrepresented the ages of suspects so they would not match with those denoted in the victims’ First Information Reports, leaving the court no option but to let the alleged culprits go.

Nine people were convicted, and five suspects, including Pradhan, were acquitted “for lack of evidence” on Nov. 18 for burning the house of Ratha Nayak in Mlahupanga village, Kandhamal on Aug. 27, 2008. Those convicted were sentenced to four years of prison and fined 3,500 rupees (US$75) each.

In a previous case, witnesses had testified to the involvement of Pradhan in the kidnapping of Kantheswar Digal – subsequently murdered on Aug. 25, 2008 – in Sankarakhole village, Phulbani district, but their testimony failed to convince the court to condemn the BJP politician.

Pradhan was arrested and jailed in October 2008 and was elected as BJP Member of the Legislative Assembly from the G. Udayagiri constituency while in jail.

On Nov. 24, Judge C.R. Das acquitted six suspects: Budhdeb Kanhar, Purander Kanhar, Gadadhar Kanhar, Sudhir Pradhan, Ajibana Pradhan and Dadhi Mallick. They were accused of killing Meghanad Digal and his wife Priyatama from Dutukagam village, Tikabali on Sept. 25, 2008.

Judge S.K. Das sentenced 12 persons to four years of prison along with a fine of 2,000 rupees (US$43) each on Nov. 28 for torching houses and shops at Sirtiguda village, under Nuagaon police jurisdiction, on Sept. 13, 2008.

Indo-Asian News Service reported that on Nov. 30 Sanjeev Pradhan was convicted of torching the house of Shravan Kumar Digal of Penagari village on Aug. 25, 2008. Sanjeev Pradhan was sentenced to prison for five years and fined 7,500 rupees (US$160).

Special Investigation Team Sought

Christian leaders are calling for a special investigation team like the one created after communal violence wracked Gujarat state in 2002.

“The need of the hour is a special investigation team, for the investigations of the Orissa police have caused doubts,” attorney Das said. 

He added that the cases should be transferred out of Kandhamal, as Christian leaders feel justice cannot be served in the district’s Hindu extremist atmosphere.

Many of the Christians displaced as a result of the violence have yet to return to their villages. The archbishop of Bhubaneswar-Cuttack, Raphael Cheenath, told media that out of 50,000 people displaced, about half have returned, “but they are facing housing problems. The state government should take it up earnestly.”

Dr. John Dayal of the All India Christian Council stated in a Dec. 4 report that “several thousand of the 50,000 Christian refugees are still to return home. Many cannot, as they have been told they have to convert to Hinduism before they will be accepted in the villages. The threats and coercion continue till today.”

He added that most of the more than 5,000 houses destroyed in December 2007 and August-October 2008 mayhem have yet to be rebuilt.

Attorney Das told Compass many of those who fled their village fear returning home.

“It is true that in many cases, the pre-condition of converting to Hinduism and facing violence if they do not has been the factor that has prevented the people from returning to their homes,” he said. “The fear of being attacked again has also stopped many from going into their villages. The government has not been very successful in instilling trust in the Christian community that such incidents can be prevented in the future.”

Orissa police yesterday arrested a man accused in the rape of a nun during the violence in Kandhamal. Gururam Patra was reportedly arrested in Dharampur.

He was accused of leading a mob that attacked the nun at on Aug. 25, 2008. Police have so far arrested 19 people in the incident, with another 11 still at large. The 29-year-old nun has told police she was raped and paraded naked by a Hindu extremist mob, and that officers only stood by when she pleaded for help.

SIDEBAR

Official Names Hindu Nationalist Groups in Orissa Violence

NEW DELHI, December 7 (Compass Direct News) – The ruling party of Orissa state, which labelled last year’s mayhem in Kandhamal district as “ethnic violence,” has publicly admitted that Hindu nationalist groups were behind the killings and arson of Christians and their property.

“It is learnt from the investigation into the riot cases that the members of the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh], the VHP [World Hindu Council] and the Bajrang Dal were involved in the violence that took place last year,” Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik told the state legislative assembly last month.

Patnaik, in response to a question by a member of the Communist Party of India, also disclosed that police had arrested 85 people from the RSS, 321 members of the VHP and 118 Bajrang Dal members in the attacks. He said that only 27 members from these groups were still in jail.

The others were either bailed out or acquitted for lack of evidence, which Christians say is due to shoddy or corrupt investigation by police and prosecutors (government attorneys).

Soon after violence in Kandhamal broke out in August 2008, Patnaik blamed it on “conflict of interest” between Dalits (people at the bottom of the caste hierarchy in Hinduism and formerly known as “untouchables”) and tribal people.

National media speculated that Patnaik was seeking to deflect attention from the Bajrang Dal, which had been accused of the attacks on the Christians. The Bajrang Dal (Army of Hindu God Hanuman) is the youth wing of the VHP, which is seen as part of the RSS family.

Local Christians had suspected the role of the RSS and related outfits since the violence began on Aug. 24, 2008 – one day after Hindu nationalist leader Laxmanananda Saraswati was killed by Maoists (extreme Marxists) and RSS members blamed Christians for it.

The RSS is a Hindu nationalist conglomerate whose political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was part of the ruling coalition during the 2008 eruption of the violence that killed more than 100 people, mostly hacked to death or burned alive, and incinerated more than 4,500 houses, over 250 churches and 13 educational institutions.

Patnaik’s party, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) broke up its 11-year-old alliance with the BJP in March 2009, a month before state assembly and national elections were held. The BJD, which fought the two elections alone, won a majority in the state assembly and most seats in parliament from the state.

It was only after the coalition’s break-up that the BJD began to hint at the culpability of the RSS and related groups.

“It was important to break up with the BJP, because I don’t consider them healthy any longer for my state after Kandhamal [violence] – which I think is very apparent to everyone,” Patnaik told CNN-IBN, a private TV news channel, on April 19.

A state government-constituted panel, the Justice Mohapatra Commission of Inquiry, is probing the Kandhamal violence but has yet to issue its final report.

Meantime, a report of another panel, the Justice M.S. Liberhan Commission of Inquiry, said that top leaders of the BJP, the RSS, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal “meticulously planned” the demolition of the 17th century Babri Mosque 17 years ago.

More than 2,000 people were killed in communal violence across the country following the demolition of the mosque on Dec. 6, 1992. The incident polarized voters along religious lines and subsequently contributed to the BJP’s rise in Indian politics.

The Liberhan report, presented to parliament on Nov. 25, indicted several Hindu nationalist leaders, including former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, current Leader of Opposition in the People’s House L.K. Advani, VHP leader Ashok Singhal and former RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan.

Observers said the indictment of extreme Hindu nationalists, however, has come too late, as the BJP no longer seems to be powerful at the national level.

Report from Compass Direct News 

CHINA: AUTHORITIES REFUSE TO RENEW LICENSES FOR HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYERS


Key attorney for Uyghur Christian among those effectively disbarred.

DUBLIN, June 11 (Compass Direct News) – Li Dunyong, one of several lawyers involved in the defense of Uyghur house church Christian Alimjan Yimit (Alimujiang Yimiti in Chinese) was effectively disbarred at the end of May when Chinese authorities turned down an annual application to renew his law license.

Zhang Kai, another Beijing lawyer who had defended Alimjan, suffered the same fate.

Authorities failed to renew licenses for at least 15 other lawyers who had defended civil rights cases, religious and ethnic minorities and political dissidents, according to watch group Human Rights in China (HRIC).

During a process of “Annual Inspection and Registration” for all lawyers and law firms, with a closing date of May 31 for renewal applications, authorities also denied three law firms the necessary approval to practice. Officials harassed and physically abused several of the affected lawyers in the months prior to the loss of their licenses.

The lawyers can technically appeal this decision or re-apply at a later date, but most see this as a clear warning to avoid handling sensitive cases.

“The process of building a country ruled by law has suffered a serious setback,” HRIC claimed in a statement on June 4.

The rejection of applications followed the Feb. 4 disappearance of Gao Zhisheng, a high-profile Christian human rights activist who once said that every human rights lawyer would eventually become a human rights case. Gao’s whereabouts remained unknown at press time. (See “Action Urged for Missing Rights Activist,” March 25.)

Lawyer Li had planned to visit Alimjan in northwest China early this month, but recent events have forced the legal team to reconsider its defense strategy.

Alimjan, a member of the troubled Uyghur minority in Xinjiang province, remains in arbitrary detention awaiting trial, 16 months after his arrest. Officials initially closed the foreign-owned business Alimjan worked for in September 2007 and accused him of using it as a cover for “preaching Christianity.” He was then detained in January 2008 on charges of endangering state security and was formally arrested on Feb. 20, 2008 on charges of “inciting secession” and leaking state secrets.

Court officials returned Alimjan’s case to state prosecutors in May 2008, citing lack of evidence. Last May 21, government sources told Alimjan’s mother that the Public Security Bureau (PSB) in Kashgar planned to quietly sentence him to three years of re-education through labor, thereby circumventing the court system.

Under Chinese law the PSB, which originally filed the case against Alimjan, may authorize such sentences without approval from the court or other state agencies.

The case was returned to court for consideration last October, but at press time there was no indication of another date for a court hearing.

Li petitioned for and was granted permission for a rare meeting with his client on April 21 after witnesses saw police and a prison doctor escorting Alimjan to a hospital on March 30; Compass sources said Alimjan had been beaten in prison, although it was not clear who beat him or why. When Li questioned him, Alimjan indicated that he was not allowed to speak about his health.

The beating followed a previous meeting with his lawyer – only the second of such visits permitted during his detention – on March 24.

Human Rights Advocates Threatened

On April 13, China’s State Council released a new “National Human Rights Action Plan” that focused heavily on protecting the rights of prisoners and included a pledge to abolish torture and other forms of abuse within two years.

Issued at least partially in response to a United Nations review of China’s rights record in February, the plan also affirmed the right of prisoners to hire and meet with lawyers and to report abuses in writing to the appropriate authorities.

Contrary to such promises, however, the detention and physical abuse of lawyers has multiplied in recent months, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for HRW, maintains that control over the yearly renewal of licenses remains one of the main obstacles to the independence of China’s legal profession.

Authorities placed several human rights lawyers under house arrest or heavy surveillance in the first week of June as China marked the 20th anniversary of the June 4, 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. According to HRIC, policemen seized one of the 15 temporarily disbarred lawyers, Tang Jitian, from his home early on the morning of June 4; they had already detained him for 10 hours the previous day.

“This is a display of meticulously planned suppression of lawyers who enforce and uphold the law and are dedicated to public interests,” Tang told HRIC.

One lawyer, Jiang Tianyong, said officers barred him from leaving his home on June 3 and told him, “Think of your wife and child.” Jiang is among those whose licenses were not renewed.

In late May, HRW reported that Beijing authorities had pressured several legal firms not to endorse the renewal applications of members who had defended civil rights cases.

Report from Compass Direct News

INDIA: NEWS BRIEFS


Recent Incidents of Persecution

Maharashtra, January 30 (Compass Direct News) – Hindu extremists on Jan. 26 disrupted a baptism and thrashed believers at Gangapur Dam, Nashik district. The Times of India reported that as members of the Navjivan Fellowship Church were conducting a baptism ceremony at the dam, a group of 10 to 12 men armed with cricket stumps, iron rods and sticks arrived and beat those present, including women and children. They also damaged the car of one Christian. Winston Daniel, whose head was injured during the assault, told the national daily that the attack was so meticulously planned that the group left behind no clues to ascertain their identity. The Hindustan Times reported that Sangeeta Paulat, who also was injured, said the assailants shouted, “Jai Shri Ram [hail to Lord Ram]” while beating them. Suresh Patil suffered a head injury, and Himmat Wagh received hospital treatment for a fractured hand. Sanjay Pandit suffered a broken leg and was recovering at Nashik General (Civil) Hospital. A complaint was filed with Nashik Taluk police, and a case of rioting was registered against the unidentified men.

 

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists from the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on Jan. 26 vandalized and attacked the nuns at St. Mary School in Kadiri. The Christian Legal Association (CLA) reported that a mob of about 12 extremists led by Vishnuvardhan Reddy barged into the school premises accusing authorities of not hoisting the flag on India’s Republic day. The extremists destroyed furniture, window panes and attacked the sisters, and area pastors reported the incident to police. A deputy superintendent of police identified only as Sainad told Compass that school officials and the attackers reached a compromise. The CLA reported that the school principal said the students had not come to school as there was a solar eclipse, but that the flag had been hoisted inside the building.

 

Madhya Pradesh – Hindu extremists accused a pastor of “harming religious sentiments” in Sanjay Koyla Nagar, Anooppur district, according to the Christian Legal Association. On Jan. 18 police went to the house of pastor Paulose Venkatarao of an area Pentecostal church around midnight on a complaint filed by Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists accusing the pastor of selling a book, “Dharam Nirpeksh Evam Hindutva,” which they said harmed the sentiments of the Hindus. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that police told the pastor to go to the police station at 1 a.m., following a three-day convention the church had organized on Jan. 16-18, attended by a team from Bible College of Nagaland and pastors from abroad. At the police station, officers reprimanded the pastor; he gave a statement saying he had no idea who was selling books at the convention. Police officials told Compass that the pastor was called to the station for his own security as the extremists were creating a disturbance. No case was registered against the pastor.

 

Chhattisgarh – On Jan. 18 about 1,000 Hindu extremists gathered in anti-Christian protest in Palnar, Dendewada. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that the extremists shouted anti-Christian slogans, asserting that they wanted to wipe out all Christians and their activities in the area. The Hindu extremists reportedly staged the protest in response to Christians who were arrested on Jan. 5 on charges of defiling an area Hindu temple. After several calls by Christian leaders, police came to the area and dispersed the crowd.

 

Andhra Pradesh – Suspected Hindu extremists on Jan. 16 attacked a pastor in Gunpula, Karimnagar district. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that six persons with their faces masked barged into the house of pastor Yakobu Jacob and began assaulting him. They shaved his head and burned his house with all his belongings. The intolerant Hindus also shouted that there should not be any Christian pastor in the village. The pastor filed a police complaint, and officers at Potkapalli police station registered a case against the extremists. Sub-Inspector D. Pratab told Compass that a police investigation was continuing.

 

KarnatakaHindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists on Jan. 11 forcibly entered the home of Christian converts in Amrthmahal Kavalu hamlet, near Tiptur town in Tumkur district. They verbally abused the four Christians there, burned their Bibles and forced them to the Honnavalli police station, according to the Global Council of Indian Christians. Identified only as Shankarappa and his wife Leelamama, and Shivappa and his wife Manjamma, the two brothers and their wives are the only Christians resident in the village. They worship at Calvary Gospel Centre in Tiptur town. The church’s pastor, Joy Jacob, told Compass that at around 10:30 p.m. nine local Hindu extremists barged into the house using foul language, falsely accused the Christians of forcible conversions and tore up and burned two Bibles. They threatened to burn down the Christians’ house if they continued to worship at the Calvary Gospel Centre. Police arrived and took the Christians to the police station as the extremists shouted Hindu chants along the way. On Jan. 12 about 9 a.m., Jacob went to the police station to register a complaint but officers refused to accept it. They instead arranged a compromise agreement, with the Christians forgiving the assailants.

 

Karnataka – Police on Jan. 9 arrested pastor Iswar Albannavar of the Throne of Grace Ministry in Gangavadi slum, Belgaum for forcible conversion, but when the accusations proved false they were held for promoting religious enmity. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that Albannavar and his wife Renuka were conducting their regular weekly prayer meeting in their home for about 25 Christians, mostly recovering alcoholics, when police officials from Mala Maruthi police station stormed into the house. On the basis of a complaint filed by Hanmant Gargoti, officers falsely charged the pastor with forcible conversion and confiscated Bibles and hymn books, GCIC said. Police took the pastor and another Christian, Raju Kolkar, to the police station for questioning, after which Albannavar and Kolkar were sent to Belgaum Central Jail. An investigating officer identified only as Channakeshava told the Christian Legal Association that the two Christians were charged with promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion.

 

Karnataka – Four suspected Hindu extremists on motorbikes beat teacher James Victor Menezes, 52, a teacher at St. Legory’s School in Merlapadavu village near Mangalore on Jan. 7, reported the Daijiworld Media Network. Father Charles Menezes of the school told Compass that he strongly suspected the hand of Hindu extremists in the attack. On Jan. 2 the Catholic school had distributed Bibles; officials had announced that the Bibles were intended only for Christians, but a few others also picked up copies. The next day, protestors appeared in front of the school from Hindu groups, including the Srirama Sene (Army of Lord Ram). “The protestors falsely accused the schoolteachers of distributing Bibles to Hindus,” Fr. Meneze said. The beaten school teacher said he filed a complaint with the Kankanady police station, reportedly informing police that he would be able to identify the attackers, as they had also taken part in the protest. At press time no arrests had been made.

 

Chhattisgarh – Police on Jan. 5 arrested 10 Christians in Dantewada for allegedly defiling a Hindu temple. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that on Christmas Day around 40 Christians from the Bastar for Christ (BFC) house church in Palnar village, Dantewada had gone to Phulpad for a picnic and had inadvertently left behind a few paper plates and some food. Unidentified mischief-makers gathered up the leftovers and piled them at a small Hindu temple nearby, then took photographs of the supposed defilement. Local sources told Compass that on Dec. 28 and Jan. 4, area Hindu extremists disrupted a prayer service at the BFC house church, and on Jan. 5 police from Kua Kunda arrested associate pastor Shankar Sona and nine other Christians based on a police complaint filed by a Hindu extremist using the photograph as evidence. Police charged the Christians with damaging or defiling a place of worship, and they were all released on bail the same day.

 

Madhya Pradesh – Police on Jan. 5 arrested Christians in Kushalpura village, near Rajgarh in Dhar district after Hindu extremists attacked them. Dr. Sajan K. George of the Global Council of Indian Christians, said that pastor Kantilal Bhuria of Philadelphia Church was conducting a house-blessing service at the home of Badar Baria when nearly 10 members of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad stormed into the house, assaulted the Christians and falsely accused the pastor of forcible conversion. The extremists phoned police, and as is customary in India officers jailed the victims of the Hindu extremist aggression. Pastor Bhuria and Baria were taken to the Sardarpur police station. Investigating officer Upendra Khare informed the Christian Legal Association that the Christians were arrested for injuring or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult religion. At press time the Christians were still in jail.

 

Karnataka – Airport police in Bangalore on Jan. 4 arrested three Christians for trying to fraudulently convert residents of Murugeshpalya and for disparaging Hindu gods, the Times of India reported. Police arrested Rama Reddy, 26, Mike Barabas, 35, and his wife Asmira Barabas based on a complaint by Prabhod Kumar Das that they were involved in “denigration of Hindu gods.” The complaint also stated that the three persons promised him money and a job if he agreed to convert. The newspaper reported that the three visited Das’ house for one week and persuaded him to change his religion. When the three went to Das’ house on Jan. 4, he went out and called people from the area who took hold of the Christians and handed them over to airport police. Officials seized books, handouts and other evangelistic materials from the accused. Airport police officials told Compass that the three Christians were in jail and have been charged with trespassing, hurting religious sentiments and promoting enmity between different religious groups.

 

Karnataka – Police on Jan. 4 arrested a pastor on a false complaint of forcible conversion by Hindu extremists in Kanakapura Taluk, Ramnagar district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that nearly 25 extremists belonging to the Hindu extremist Bajrang Dal stormed the worship service of the India Christian Revival Mission, verbally abused the congregation and chased them from the building. The extremists repeatedly slapped and kicked the pastor, identified only as Paul, and his son Barnabas. The intolerant Hindus dragged them both outside and took them to the Kanakapura police station, where they filed the false complaint of forcible conversion against the pastor. A GCIC representative told Compass that police detained the Christians at the station until about 7:30 p.m., when GCIC intervention resulted in a compromise between the pastor and the assailants. Having forgiven them, the pastor declined to press charges, and police gave assurances that adequate protection would be extended to the church in Kanakapura.

 

Karnataka – Hindu extremists on Jan. 1 burned a house church of the Resurrected God’s Ministry in Malai Bennur, Davangere district. The Christian Legal Association reported that the extremists burned the church in the early morning hours and threatened a pastor identified only as Gangadhar that they would burn his family alive if he took the matter to authorities. The Deccan Herald News Service reported that one section of the church built with areca leaves was gutted in the fire, while the other side of the church was partially burned. This incident was reportedly the second attack on the church, with the earlier incident taking place on Nov. 11, 2007. Superintendent of Police Sandip Patil told Compass that one person had been arrested under Section 436 of the Indian Penal Code for intent to destroy a house with fire or explosives.  

Report from Compass Direct News