The following are articles from Compass Direct News from the period I was on my break:
The following are articles from Compass Direct News from the period I was on my break:
Christians call for agency to probe anti-Muslim terrorism ties to Orissa-Karnataka attacks.
NEW DELHI, March 25 (CDN) — Right-wing terrorists played a key role in attacking and killing Christians in Orissa and Karnataka states in 2008, one of the Hindu extremist suspects in anti-Muslim bomb blasts has told investigators, leading to renewed demands for a probe by India’s anti-terror agency.
Pragya Singh Thakur, arrested for planning 2008 bombings targeting Muslims in west India, told the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that Lt. Col. Prasad Srikant Purohit had “masterminded” the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Orissa and Karnataka, The Indian Express daily reported on Wednesday (March 23). Purohit is accused along with Thakur for the 2008 bombings of Muslims.
Thakur had met with Purohit after the August 2008 Kandhamal attacks against Christians began and told her “he was into big things like blasts, etc., and had masterminded the Orissa and Karnataka ‘disturbances,’” the national daily reported.
The NIA, a recently formed agency to prevent, probe and prosecute terrorism-related incidents on a national scale, is investigating several cases involving right-wing terrorism aimed at the Muslim minority in retaliation for Islamist attacks. Both Thakur, formerly a member of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s student wing, and Purohit, who was serving in the Indian Army when he was arrested for his role in blasts in Malegaon city in western Maharashtra state, were part of the Hindu extremist Abhinav Bharat.
Thakur’s statement to the NIA came soon after a Directorate of Military Intelligence report said Purohit had confessed to having killed at least two Christians in Kandhamal and playing a role in violence in Karnataka and other states.
The revelation by Thakur was not surprising, said John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council.
“We have held that the military precision of the Kandhamal riots, which spread fast and raged for months, could not be a work of mere common people, and that higher brains were at work to ‘teach the Christians a lesson’ while sending out signals of their power lust to the entire nation,” Dayal told Compass.
The violence in Kandhamal began following the assassination of a Hindu extremist leader Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23, 2008. Though Maoists claimed responsibility for the murder, Hindu extremists blamed Christians for it. The violence began after the arrival of Indresh Kumar, an executive committee member of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and a suspect in blast cases, said Kandhamal activist Ajay Singh. Local media reports said Kumar was part of Saraswati’s funeral procession, which was designed to trigger the attacks, Singh added.
The RSS denies having played any role in terrorism. On March 12, Ram Madhav, an RSS national executive committee member, called the allegation against Kumar “a concerted political campaign.” Those who were dragging the RSS leader into blast cases “will stand thoroughly exposed,” The Times of India daily quoted him as saying.
Dayal and another Christian leader, Joseph Dias, said they had separately written to India’s prime minister and home minister seeking inclusion of the anti-Christian attacks in an ongoing NIA investigation. Sajan K. George of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) said he had petitioned the president for the same.
Dias, general secretary of the Catholic-Christian Social Forum, a Maharashtra-based rights group, recalled that violence in Kandhamal spread across 13 other districts of Orissa.
“In Kandhamal alone, more than 6,600 homes were destroyed, 56,000 people rendered homeless, thousands injured, and about 100 men and women [were] burned alive or hacked to death,” Dias said. “Among the women raped was a Catholic nun.”
In September 2008, as the violence continued in Kandhamal, a series of attacks on Christians and their property rocked Mangalore city in Karnataka state.
“In Karnataka, it was hundreds of churches that were desecrated, Christians brutally beaten up, over 350 false cases foisted on them, property held by the community taken over, and no relief to date [has been] received,” Dias said.
While the government of Orissa downplayed the violence as “ethnic tensions,” Karnataka officials blamed it on Christian conversions.
The RSS and outfits linked to it such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, which claims to work for tribal welfare, facilitated the Kandhamal attacks together with alleged Hindu nationalist terrorists, Dayal said.
“We want the truth about Hindu groups’ anti-national terror activities against minority Christians to come out,” said George, whose GCIC is based in Karnataka.
Dias warned that that the latest statement by Thakur must not to be seen in isolation, as the Military Intelligence report revealed that the Abhinav Bharat had targeted Christians in several states, including Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
The “game plan” is to “cripple Christian religious places, property and institutions, besides eliminating its nascent community leadership at the grassroots,” Dias added.
The Abhinav Bharat was formed in 2007 by a few right-wing Hindus allegedly disillusioned with the leaders of the Hindu nationalist movement, whom they thought were too timid to make India a Hindu nation, rather than one based on religious pluralism.
Report from Compass Direct News
Government-perpetrated violence against a Catholic village in Vietnam has highlighted a series of human rights abuses in the communist nation, and three U.S. congressmen are calling on the United Nations to intervene, reports Baptist Press.
"A few months ago during a religious funeral procession, Vietnamese authorities and riot police disrupted that sad and solemn occasion, shooting tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd, beating mourners with batons and electric rods," Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., said at a hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in August.
"More than 100 were injured, dozens were arrested and several remain in custody and have reportedly been severely beaten and tortured. At least two innocent people have been murdered by the Vietnamese police," Smith said.
The Con Dau tragedy, Smith said, "is unfortunately not an isolated incident." Property disputes between the government and the Catholic church continue to lead to harassment, property destruction and violence, Smith said, referring to a report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
"In recent years, the Vietnamese government has stepped up its persecution of Catholic believers, bulldozing churches, dismantling crucifixes and wreaking havoc on peaceful prayer vigils," Smith said.
Persecution is not limited to Catholics, though, as Smith had a list of nearly 300 Montagnard political and religious prisoners. In January, the Vietnamese government sentenced two Montagnard Christians to 9 and 12 years imprisonment for organizing a house church, and others have been arrested in connection with house churches, Smith said.
"The arrests were accompanied by beatings and torture by electroshock devices," the congressman said. "We must not forget the sufferings of Khmer Krom Buddhists, Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and others. The said reality is that the Vietnamese government persecutes any religious group that does not submit to government control."
The violence in the 80-year-old Catholic village of Con Dau in central Vietnam reportedly stemmed from a government directive for residents to abandon the village to make way for the construction of a resort.
International Christian Concern, a Washington-based watchdog group, reported that when Con Dau residents refused to leave, water irrigation was shut off to their rice fields, stopping the main source of income and food.
In May, police attacked the funeral procession, beating more than 60 people, including a pregnant woman who was struck in the stomach until she had a miscarriage, ICC said.
One of the funeral procession leaders later was confronted by police in his home, where they beat him for about four hours and then released him. He died the next day, ICC said. Eight people remain in police custody and are awaiting trial.
"The people of Con Dau are living in desperate fear and confusion," Thang Nguyen, executive director of an organization representing Con Dau victims, told ICC. "Hundreds of residents have been fined, and many have escaped to Thailand."
Smith, along with Rep. Joseph Cao, R.-La., and Frank Wolf, R.-Va., introduced a House resolution in July calling for the United Nations to appoint a special investigator to probe "ongoing and serious human rights violations in Vietnam." In August, the Lantos Commission met in emergency session to address the "brutal murders and systematic treatment of Catholics in Con Dau."
"The Vietnamese government justifies this violence, torture and murder because the villagers of Con Dau had previously been ordered, some through coercion, to leave their village, property, church, century-old cemetery, their religious heritage, and to forgo equitable compensation in order to make way for a new ‘green’ resort," Smith said at the hearing. "Nothing, however, not even governmental orders, grant license for government-sanctioned murder and other human rights abuses."
The U.S. Department of State declined to testify before the Lantos Commission, and the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam characterized the Con Dau incident as a land dispute and refused to get involved.
Logan Maurer, a spokesman for International Christian Concern, told Baptist Press he has publicized about 10 different incidents of persecution in Vietnam during the past few months.
"In some cases, especially in Southeast Asia, religious persecution becomes a gray area. We also work extensively in Burma, where often there are mixed motives for why a particular village is attacked," Maurer said. "Is it because they’re Christian? Well, partially. Is it because they’re an ethnic minority? Partially.
"So I think the same thing happens in Vietnam where you have a whole village that’s Catholic. One hundred percent of it was Catholic," he said of Con Dau.
Maurer explained that local government officials in Vietnam generally align Christianity with the western world and democracy, which is still seen as an enemy in Vietnam on a local level.
"As far as the official government Vietnamese position, that’s different, but local government officials do not take kindly to Christians and never have. We have documented many cases of government officials saying Christianity is the enemy. So here it’s mixed motives as best we can figure out," Maurer said.
"They wanted to build a resort there, and they could have picked a different village but they chose the one on purpose that was Catholic because it represents multiple minorities — minority religion, minority also in terms of people that can’t fight back. If they go seek government help, the government is not going to help them."
A Christian volunteer who has visited Vietnam five times in the past decade told Baptist Press the Con Dau incident illustrates the way the Vietnamese government responds to any kind of dissent.
"In our country, and in modern democracies, there are methods for resolving disputes with the government, taking them to court, trying to work through the mediation process," the volunteer, who did not want to be identified, said. "In Vietnam there is no such thing. It is the government’s will or there will be violence."
Vietnam’s constitution includes a provision for religious liberty, but the volunteer said that only goes as far as the communal will of the people, which is monopolized by the Communist Party.
"So when the Communist Party says you can’t build a church there or you can’t worship this way, those who say, ‘Well, I have religious freedom,’ are essentially trumped by the constitution that says it’s the will of the people, not individual liberty that’s important," the volunteer said.
The government in Vietnam has made efforts during the past 15 years to open up the country to economic development, and with that has come an influx of some western values and a lot of Christians doing work there, the volunteer said.
"I would first caution Christians to still be careful when they’re there working," he said, adding that government officials closely watch Christians who visit from other countries, and books about Jesus cause trouble.
Secondly, the volunteer warned that all news emerging from Vietnam must be tested for accuracy on both sides because both those who are persecuting and those who are sounding the alarm on persecution have their own political goals.
"That being said, I don’t doubt that this happened," the volunteer said regarding Con Dau.
International Christian Concern urges Americans to contact the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington at 202-861-0737, and the Christian volunteer said people can contact the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to encourage changes in Vietnam.
"They can also directly e-mail the ambassador and the consular general in Ho Chi Minh City and encourage them to push for more reform," he said. "And they can contact companies that are having products made in Vietnam and encourage the business leaders to speak out for change in those countries. You go to JC Penney today in the men’s department and pick up almost anything, it’s made in Vietnam. That’s the kind of pressure they could put on them."
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Judges reject request to investigate links to suspected masterminds.
MALATYA, Turkey, February 24 (CDN) — On Friday (Feb. 19) judges eager to wrap up the trial over the murder of three Christians here rejected plaintiff appeals to investigate the suspected masterminds behind the stabbing deaths.
At the 24th hearing regarding the 2007 murders of Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske in this city in southeastern Turkey, the prosecution demanded three life sentences without chance for parole for each defendant.
Judges and prosecutors pushed for a conclusion to the case that has lasted nearly three years. In the last few weeks the Istanbul prosecutors sent a police report to Malatya’s Third Criminal Court linking the murders to a larger “deep state” operation led by a cabal of retired generals, politicians and other key figures called Ergenekon. The judges, however, rejected plaintiffs’ requests that the Malatya court further probe into the possible links between the two operations.
In a 17-page statement, prosecutors detailed accusations against the five young defendants, Emre Gunaydin, Salih Gürler, Cuma Ozdemir, Hamit Ceker and Abuzer Yildirim, and demanded three consecutive life sentences for each of them if convicted. The five men are charged with murder, being part of a terrorist organization, holding citizens against their will and stealing.
The prosecutors’ recommended sentence is the maximum possible in the case. Plaintiff and defense lawyers are to present their rebuttals to the proposed punishment at the next hearing, scheduled for April 15.
“They requested the highest possible penalty, however, we are defeated in this case when we consider that these five guys are part of a bigger plan . . . and this incident occurred as part of this plan,” said plaintiff lawyer Murat Dincer in a press briefing after the hearing.
Dincer said the recommended sentence takes into account only the five young men and not the suspected high-level officials who planned the murder. He and his colleagues said bringing those behind the scenes to justice is still a possibility, and that therefore they would evaluate the proposed sentence and make their petition accordingly.
“The trial is important in the sense that we expected such a penalty, but we did not want them [prosecutors] to stop searching for connections with Ergenekon,” said plaintiff lawyer Erdal Dogan.
Over the last three years, plaintiff lawyers have presented volumes of evidence showing how the Malatya murders were just one operation in a series of many targeting the country’s Christian minorities in an effort to destabilize the current Islamic-leaning government.
On behalf of the team of plaintiff lawyers, Dogan told judges in court that research into a recent indictment over a stash of military artillery found on the property of a foundation in the Istanbul suburb of Poyrazkoy showed there were links to violent attacks against Christians. He cited the 2006 murder of Catholic priest Andreas Santoro in Trabzon, the kidnapping of a Syrian Orthodox priest in Mardin, the stabbing of a priest in Izmir and threats against the pastor of the Protestant church in Samsun all in the last three years.
The Poyrazkoy indictment took place within the context of the Ergenekon probes. The murder of the Armenian Christian editor of Agos in Istanbul three months before the April 18, 2007 Malatya murders has also been linked to the Ergenekon investigation.
Dogan speculated that the court decision to start bringing the trial to a close without further probes into Ergenekon links may have sprung from last week’s decision by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors to disqualify four prosecutors in Erzurum in a judicial power struggle over other investigations into the alleged clandestine operation.
“It may be that the prosecutors are nervous because of that,” said Dogan. “Because among those implicated in Malatya is an army commander, a gendarmerie commander, soldiers and professors, so it may have made them nervous in that sense. That’s why they want to drop it at this point.”
Plaintiff lawyers said that the latest decisions do not necessarily mean the end of investigation into the links between Ergenekon and the Malatya murders. If by the end of the Malatya murder case the Istanbul prosecutors have not outlined an action plan directing the court to pursue Ergenekon leads and the case is closed, plaintiff lawyers said they are ready to take the case to the Supreme Court of Appeals.
“But of course we wish those connections would be made here,” said Dogan.
Report from Compass Direct News
A self-proclaimed atheist can continue to serve as a local pastor of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, and no longer faces disciplinary action because of his controversial position on how to describe God, reports Ecumenical News International.
A special assembly of Zierikzee, a regional church body tasked with investigating the theological statements of Pastor Klaas Hendrikse, has said its work is, "completed".
The 3 February decision to allow Hendrikse to continue working as a pastor followed the advice of a regional supervisory panel that the statements by Hendrikse, "are not of sufficient weight to damage the foundations of the church".
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Scheme to destabilize pro-Islamic government believed to be part of Ergenekon conspiracy.
ISTANBUL, December 29 (CDN) — Malatya’s Third Criminal Court on Friday (Dec. 25) took further steps to connect the murders of three Christians in southeastern Turkey to a Turkish military plan to destabilize the pro-Islamic government.
Evidence surfaced in Turkish press last month linking the murders of the three Christians in the southeastern city of Malatya with army activities to overthrow the government in a special operation called the “Operation Cage Action Plan.” The Malatya prosecutor and plaintiffs on Friday requested that the Istanbul prosecutor further probe links between the Malatya case and the Cage Plan, which included an elaborate scheme to attack Muslim-majority Turkey’s religious minorities.
They also requested that the Malatya court open to plaintiffs the currently “classified” prosecutor’s investigation into links between the Malatya murders and an alleged operation by the military and other political figures to destabilize the government known as Ergenekon.
Evidence of the Cage Plan, believed to be part of Ergenekon, centers on a compact disc found in April in the house of a retired naval officer; it was decrypted and leaked to the press last month. The plan, to be carried out by 41 named naval officers and dated March 2009, termed as “operations” the murders of the three Christians in Malatya, the 2006 assassination of Catholic priest Andreas Santoro and the 2007 slaying of Hrant Dink, Armenian editor-in-chief of the weekly Agos.
“This Cage Plan starts with a reference to the Malatya, Dink and Santoro cases and mentions them as previous ‘operations,’” said one of the plaintiff lawyers, Orhan Kemal Cengiz, adding that a connection of the murders with the Cage Plan would be difficult for any court to ignore.
Hearings for Ergenekon are ongoing in Istanbul. Istanbul prosecutors handling the Ergenekon case sent a response to the Malatya court this month in which they reported they have not been able to find a direct connection with the Malatya murders yet. The Malatya court is waiting for further investigations into possible connections with Ergenekon.
Cengiz said that although investigations are moving slowly, he is pleased with the willingness of the Malatya prosecutor to cooperate and find who is behind the murders.
“I see a good will on the part of the prosecutor,” said Cengiz. “He’s really trying to discover the possible links, and I’m glad to see his effort, and he was helpful and supportive to us. It was important.”
Turkish Christians, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske were tortured and stabbed to death in Malatya on April 18, 2007 at Zirve Publishing Co., which distributed Bibles and literature in the area.
Suspects Emre Gunaydin, Salih Gürler, Cuma Ozdemir, Hamit Ceker and Abuzer Yildirim, who were caught at the crime scene, are still held in prison in Malatya. Two other suspects, journalist Varol Bulent Aral and Huseyin Yelki, a former volunteer at Zirve, are not under arrest, but the court expects them to attend all hearings.
Aral and Yelki are believed to have crucial links with the alleged masterminds of the murder plot.
The next trial is set for Feb. 19, 2010.
Report from Compass Direct News
Lax investigation, prosecution, lack of witness protection cited as reasons for injustice.
NEW DELHI, September 30 (CDN) — Only 24 people have been convicted a year after anti-Christian mayhem took place in India’s Orissa state, while the number of acquittals has risen to 95, compounding the sense of helplessness and frustration among surviving Christians.
Dr. John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council, called the trials “a travesty of justice.”
Last month a non-profit group, the Peoples Initiative for Justice and Peace (PIJP), reportedly found that as many as 2,500 complaints were filed with police following the violence in August-September 2008 in the eastern state’s Kandhamal district. The violence killed at least 100 people and burned more than 4,500 houses and over 250 churches and 13 educational institutions. It also rendered 50,000 people, mostly Christian, homeless.
Police, however, registered only 827 complaints and arrested fewer than 700 people, even though 11,000 people were named as attackers in those complaints, according to a PIJP survey.
“The manner of the judicial processes in the Kandhamal fast-track courts is tragic where all too many people have managed to escape conviction for crimes as serious as conspiracy for brutal, premeditated murder and deliberate arson,” Dayal told Compass.
Among those acquitted was Manoj Pradhan, who allegedly led mobs that killed Christians and burned their houses a few months before he became a state legislator from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Facing charges in five cases of murder and six of arson, Pradhan has been acquitted in three cases.
On Thursday (Sept. 24), the judge of Fast Track Court-II, C.R. Das, acquitted Pradhan and another suspect, Mantu Nayak, on charges of killing Khageswar Digal for refusing to “reconvert” to Hinduism, according to the Press Trust of India (PTI). Digal was a 60-year-old Catholic and resident of Shankarakhol area in Chakapada Block in Kandhamal.
“The court acquitted the BJP MLA [Member of Legislative Assembly] and Nayak due to lack of proper evidence against them,” Special Public Prosecutor Pratap Patra told PTI.
The Rev. Ajay Singh, an activist from the Catholic Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, said Digal’s son testified in court that he was witness to the killing of his father and knew the killers, and yet the accused were acquitted.
“It was a brutal murder, possibly a case of human sacrifice,” Singh said.
Digal was dragged from a vehicle before being killed on Sept. 24 last year – one month after the assassination of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati by Maoists (extreme Marxists), which triggered the violence as Hindu extremists wrongly blamed Christians.
Singh spoke to the son of the deceased Digal, Rajendra Digal, who said his parents left their village after the violence and took shelter in the state capital, Bhubaneswar.
The elder Digal, who owned a grocery shop and 35 goats, returned to his village to see his house and livestock. After selling some of the goats, he boarded a public bus to Phulbani, Kandhamal district headquarters, to start his journey back to Bhubaneswar around noon on Sept. 24. As the bus started, however, some assailants allegedly led by Pradhan stopped the bus and dragged Digal out. They also broke his leg.
The attackers were said to have taken Digal to his village, where they looted his shop. Then they allegedly took him and eight of his goats to a nearby forest, where they feasted on the goat meat throughout the night.
When Rajendra Digal heard about it, he informed police, who allegedly took no interest in the complaint. Twelve days later, his father’s body, naked and burned with acid, was found 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the village. His genitals had also been chopped off.
Rajendra Digal said he believes his father may have been the victim of human sacrifice involving ritual feasting and torture.
Shoddy Probe, Lack of Evidence
A representative of the Christian Legal Association (CLA) said the police had been conducting investigations improperly.
The CLA source pointed out that in another Fast-Track Court-I case in which Pradhan was one of the accused, police had wrongly recorded the age of the informant, Bhutia Digal.
“The court observed that if the police could not cite the age of the informant correctly, how could they have investigated the case properly?” said the source, adding that such discrepancies were found in far too many cases.
During the violence in August-September 2008, the BJP was part of the ruling coalition with a local party, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD). The latter recently broke ties with the Hindu nationalist BJP, blaming it for violence in March, a month before the state assembly election.
The BJP lost the April-May election, and the BJD emerged as the stand-alone ruling party. It is believed that the state administration began taking action against the assailants only after the coalition split in March – six months too late, which possibly provided enough time for suspects to remove evidence and threaten witnesses.
Witnesses are still being threatened or bribed, according to rights groups.
On Thursday (Sept. 24), the day the BJP legislator was acquitted, the fast-track court also released five others accused of arson in the Tikabali area of Kandhamal in a separate case, reported the PTI.
Singh said the witnesses were either intimidated or bribed and therefore turned hostile to prosecutors in court. Friends of the accused took the witnesses to the court in their vehicle, he pointed out.
Dayal said the Orissa High Court should have taken notice of the increasing number of acquittals.
“A man now an MLA seems to be beyond the law,” he said. “I would demand a high-powered judicial review by the High Court of Orissa itself, or failing that, by civil society, which should set up an independent commission of retired judges and senior lawyers.”
Singh said police investigations and prosecutions were a “sham.” There is also “a pressing need for witness protection,” he said.
He added that there were reports of witnesses being intimidated and threatened in various villages, such as Dodingia, K. Nuagam, Phiringia and Solesoru. “Police are not entertaining complaints of the threat to the witnesses,” Singh said.
Dayal highlighted three essential problems: The quality of the charge-sheets prepared by police; the role of the public prosecutor in pressing the charges as prepared by police; and the circumstances under which eyewitnesses, “often sons and daughters of those killed, cannot attest to the truth or are forced into silence,” he said.
“India does not have a witness-protection program, and surely Kandhamal has none at all,” Dayal said. “Witnesses have to pass through an aggressive environment which affectively silences them. They are human beings and fear future violence, having seen brutal violence in the past.”
Singh and Dayal demanded that the cases be heard outside Kandhamal, preferably outside Orissa state.
First Life Sentences Handed Down for Orissa, India Killing
NEW DELHI, September 30 (Compass Direct News) – A fast-track court in Orissa state on Sept. 23 delivered its first life sentences for those convicted of murder in 2008 violence in Kandhamal district, sentencing five people to life imprisonment for their involvement in the killing of Pastor Akbar Digal.
Digal, 40, pastor of a Baptist church in Tatamaha village under Raikia police jurisdiction in Kandhamal district, was killed on Aug. 26, 2008 after refusing the slayers’ demand that he forsake Christianity and convert to Hinduism. His body was reportedly cut to pieces and then burned.
He is survived by his wife, Ludhia Digal, and five children.
Additional Sessions Judge Sobhan Kumar Das of Fast Track Court-I at Phulbani district headquarters sentenced Sabita Pradhan, 30; Papu Pradhan, 30; Abinash Pradhan, 29; Dharmaraj Pradhan, 32; and Mania Pradhan, 28, to life in prison and a fine of 5,000 rupees (US$104). The five were arrested after Pastor Digal’s wife filed a First Information Report on Aug. 29, 2008.
Previous to these sentences, two fast-track courts had sentenced 12 people to prison for terms ranging only from four to six years. The government set up the two fast-track courts to try nearly 900 cases related to anti-Christian violence that erupted in August 2008. The first conviction was determined on June 30.
The special Phulbani court also sentenced six others to three years’ rigorous imprisonment on Sept. 22 for an arson attack on a journalist’s house in Kandhamal’s Phiringia village on Dec. 12, 2007.
Police had arrested 11 people in this case, but the court acquitted five for “lack of evidence.” Convicted were Ganpati Kanhar, Rabindra Kanhar, Parmeshwar Kanhar, Daleswar Kanhar, Tuba Kanhar and Vijay Kanhar, whose ages range from 25 to 40 years. They were also fined 4,000 rupees (US$83) each.
Report from Compass Direct News
Through August, more violence against Christians reported in state than in any other.
NEW DELHI, September 21 (CDN) — With at least 43 incidents of anti-Christian violence, Karnataka saw more attacks on Christians in the first eight months of this year than any other state in India, according to advocacy organizations.
The figure compares with 35 attacks on churches, worship services and Christians during the same period last year in the state, which has become the center of violence against Christians. The states with the next highest incidents of anti-Christian violence from January through August this year were Andhra Pradesh with 14 and Madhya Pradesh with 11, according to figures from the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) and the All India Christian Council.
Former Chief Minister of Karnataka H.D. Kumaraswamy on Sept. 11 called on Gov. H.R. Bhardwaj to rein in abuses by the state’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government to ensure that law and order is maintained, reported the GCIC. In several districts of Karnataka during the first eight months of the year, local authorities allowed Hindu extremists to beat pastors, disrupt prayer meetings and worship services, and burn, vandalize, demolish or shut down prayer halls.
After August last year the number of violent incidents against Christians in Karnataka raced up, with a total of 112 attacks on Christians in 2008, and the Christian community fears a repeat of hostilities.
Kumaraswamy noted that a Sept. 10 attack on St. Francis De Sales Church at Hebbagudi, on the outskirts of Bangalore, came just days after Gov. Bhardwaj voiced concern over the security of minorities in the state. Armed attackers broke into the church, damaged statues and other items, smashed windows and destroyed a house behind the building, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India. Church damages were estimated at 200,000 rupees (US$4,173).
“It is unfortunate that the government did not take any action to curb communal menace even after your caution,” Kumaraswamy wrote in a memorandum to the governor, adding that Gov. Bhardwaj was constitutionally bound to stop state security personnel from violating the law.
The former chief minister said he felt that the attack on the church, located close to the Hebbagudi police station on a busy road, reflected growing religious intolerance and tension in the state, and he criticized Home Minister V.S. Acharya for terming the attack a “minor incident.”
Archbishop of Bangalore Bernard Moras told Compass that past experience leaves him little hope for future justice.
“The state government has promised to make an immediate inquiry into the recent church attack in Hebbagudi, but nothing has been done so far, and we have no results whatsoever from the Justice B.K. Somashekar Commission of Inquiry made into church attacks last year,” he said. “Sad as it is, we feel that justice delayed is justice denied.”
Former chief minister Kumaraswamy has demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into attacks on prayer halls in the state. The leader of the opposition in the state Legislative Assembly, Siddaramaiah (who goes by a single name), has also demanded a CBI inquiry into all attacks on minorities and places of worship. The Hindu reported that he had asked state Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa to stop blaming others for the mistakes of his government.
Siddaramaiah told media on Sept. 13 that members of the Hindu extremist Sangh Parivar were involved in the attacks on churches.
“The BJP government led by B.S. Yeddyurappa has failed to take action against those involved in these incidents that created unrest in society, and now the chief minister is blaming others for the mistakes committed by his government, which has resulted in a law-and-order problem in the state,” he said.
The Hindu reported Siddaramaiah as saying that in an effort to cover up their mistakes, the chief minister and his cabinet dismissed the accusations as efforts to topple his government.
“If the chief minister has any proof to support his statements, let him hand over the issue to the CBI,” Siddaramaiah added. “The truth will be out.”
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also recently remarked that Karnataka has witnessed a number of incidents of communal violence this year.
“What is more worrisome is that the incidents were not limited to one or two districts,” Singh said in comments that Chief Minister Yedduyurappa brushed off as untrue; the chief minister referred to the violence as a “few stray incidents” that were “blown out of proportion.”
Tensions are high in the districts of Davangere, Mangalore, Bangalore, and also potentially volatile are the districts of Chickmagalur, Chitradurga, Belgaum, Tumkur, Udupi, Shimago, Bagalkot, Dharwad and Kodagu, reported the GCIC.
Chief Minister Yeddyurappa reportedly has instructed police to provide security at all religious venues and directed them to take steps to take preventative measures. City Police Commissioner Shankar Bidari has reportedly said the chief minister ordered security officers to deal sternly with those involved in incidents of religious violence.
The Bangalore Rural police on Sept. 12 reportedly handed over the investigation of the attack on St. Francis De Sales to the Criminal Investigation Department.
Attempted Anti-Conversion Law
Foremost among priorities of the Hindu nationalist BJP when it came to power in Karnataka last year was to introduce the kind of “anti-conversion” law that has provided the pretext for anti- Christian violence in other states.
Alarmed by what they said was an increase in conversions to Christianity, six prominent Hindu leaders on June 25 said that they had urged Chief Minister Yedduyurappa to introduce “anti-conversion” laws similar to those of Madhya Pradesh and Orissa, reported The Hindu. Passage of an anti-conversion bill has been left hanging, however, with negative publicity over communal violence and Christian protests against such a bill.
Such laws are designed to thwart forcible or fraudulent conversion, but they are popularly misunderstood as criminalizing conversion in general. The laws seek to curb religious conversions made by “force, fraud or allurement,” but human rights groups say they obstruct conversion generally as Hindu nationalists invoke them to harass Christians with spurious arrests and incarcerations.
Anti-conversion laws are in force in five states – Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat – and its implementation is awaited in the states of Arunachal Pradesh and Rajasthan. Several cases against Christians have been filed under various anti-conversion laws in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, but no one has been convicted in more than four decades since such laws were enacted.
Naveen Kumar of the Federation of Christian Churches and Organizations told Compass that Christians from different districts in Karnataka have come out in protest against such a bill since August of 2008. The Christians believe that the passing of an anti-conversion bill in the state would heighten atrocities against them.
Of the 52.8 million people in Karnataka, Christians number slightly more than 1 million.
Report from Compass Direct News
NEW DELHI, July 14 (Compass Direct News) – Nearly 11 months after an unprecedented wave of anti-Christian attacks shook the eastern state of Orissa, a reign of terror continues in the area as the former rioters issue death threats to witnesses.
Of the more than 750 cases filed in various police stations in Kandhamal district and neighboring Gajapati district, only one has resulted in conviction. Some trials are underway amid reports of armed extremists threatening to kill witnesses.
The Rev. Dibya Paricha of the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Catholic Archdiocese said several witnesses are shrinking away to save their lives. On Thursday (July 9), a witness in Salapsahi village, in the Kasinpadar area under the Phiringia police station, refused to testify in a murder case.
“During the trial, the complainant, the younger brother of the victim, said he did not know anything about the case,” Paricha, coordinator of the Christian Legal Association’s (CLA) legal cell in Kandhamal, told Compass. “The previous day, he had said that he would tell the truth so that the culprits would be punished … From a reliable source we came to know that he was threatened with death.”
On June 30, three men carrying pistols – Sanjeeb Pradhan, Bikram Pradhan and Pratap Pradhan – threatened witnesses in the Gondaguda area of the Chenchedi Gram Panchayat administrative area, under the jurisdiction of the Sarangarh police station in Kandhamal, Paricha said.
The three men have been issuing death threats to witnesses through the area villages, he said.
“I know them [the three gunmen] personally,” Paricha said. “They were living hand-to-mouth until recently, and now they are riding a motor vehicle and threatening the survivors.”
Information on the threats has been provided to the sub-collector (an administrative officer in charge of a sub-district), the sub-divisional police officer and the district collector (administrative head), he said, and a First Information Report has been registered at the Sarangarh police station.
Another witness and complainant in a riot-related case, 55-year-old Batia Digal, was threatened on June 17, said Paricha. Gobida Chandra Pradhan from Piserama village and Shricharnan Mohan Pradhan from Dodaingia village in Raikia area tried to pressure Digal to withdraw the case, in which a local legislator from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Manoj Pradhan, is one of the accused.
The Raikia police station is investigating the case.
On July 4, Christians saw a ray of hope when a fast-track court in Phulbani, Kandhamal district convicted a tribal leader of arson – the first conviction in a 2008 violence case. The court sentenced a 58-year-old Chakradhar Mallick to two years of prison and a fine of 1,000 rupees (US$20). Mallick had burned the house of a Christian, Loknath Digal, and threatened to kill him in August 2008.
But the granting of bail to one of the prime suspects in numerous anti-Christian riot cases – local BJP legislator Pradhan of the G. Udayagiri assembly constituency – on July 6 dampened the spirits of the Christians. Bail was granted for 15 days so that Pradhan could take oath as a member of the new assembly, reported Indo-Asian News Service. Pradhan was arrested in October 2008 on various charges including murder, rioting and arson.
The spate of violence that erupted in Kandhamal in August-September 2008 killed more than 100 people and resulted in the incineration of 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions. The violence began following the assassination of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu council or VHP) leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, by a Maoist (extreme Marxist) group. Hindu nationalist groups blamed Christians for the assassination.
Although more than 100 people were killed in the attacks, only 26 murder cases have been registered under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. According to CLA statistics, 13 cases were registered in the Raikia police station alone. Five complaints were filed in Tikabali, two each in G. Udayagiri, Sarangada, and Balliguda, and one each in Gocchapada and Phiringia.
At least nine cases were registered for attempted murder: four in Balliguda, two in G. Udayagiri, and one each in Tumudibandha, Phulbani, and Sarangada. Two rape cases were registered, one each in the Phulbani and Balliguda.
Over 550 cases have been filed for arson and looting: 323 in G. Udayagiri alone, 59 in Tikabali, 32 in Raikia, 31 in Gocchapada, 26 in Phulbani, 23 each in Phiringia and Balliguda, 18 in Daringbadi, 10 in Sarangada, four each in Tumudibandha and Kotagarh, and three in Khajuripada.
Around 680 people were arrested in the numerous cases, but some have managed to get bail from courts, according to The Deccan Herald newspaper.
The CLA and a non-profit group, the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), are providing free legal services to the victims and their relatives in Kandhamal. In neighboring Gajapati district, which also faced numerous anti-Christian attacks in August-September 2008 as fallout of Saraswati’s murder, the All India Christian Council (AICC), in partnership with the HRLN, is providing free legal aid to victims of the violence.
“At least 337 families lost homes or businesses [in Gajapati district],” Dr. Sam Paul, AICC spokesman, told Compass. “[However,] most rehabilitation as well as public attention has focused on Kandhamal district.”
Commenting on the need for legal help in Gajapati, Paul added, “On one single day [in June], the lawyers counselled and drafted petitions for 30 persons.”
The AICC and HRLN are also helping the victims in Gajapati to receive compensation and recover lost identity cards and other documents.
Silence of Inquiry Panel
At the same time, a judicial commission headed by Justice S.C. Mohapatra to probe the August-September 2008 violence submitted a 28-page interim report to the state government on July 1 without blaming any group or organization for the violence.
“Sources of the violence were deeply rooted in land disputes, conversion and re-conversion and fake certificate issues … Suspicion among the scheduled tribe and scheduled caste inhabitants of Kandhamal is the main cause of riots, with the tribals suspecting that Pana Dalits were capturing their land through fraudulent means,” Mohapatra said, according to The Hindu.
Those belonging to the Kui tribe in Kandhamal are mostly Hindu. Christians make up an estimated 16 percent of the 650,000 people in the district, with more than 60 percent of them belonging to the Pana community and classified as “Scheduled Castes,” better known as Dalits (formerly “untouchables”).
The Pana community has been demanding recognition as a tribal community, as Dalits lose their right to government’s affirmative action after they convert to Christianity. The Kui people, however, oppose the demand, as it would increase the number of candidates eligible for government-reserved jobs. Sections of the Kui people believe that Pana Dalits make fake certificates to get the land that can belong only to tribal people.
“I know it will take at least two years to complete inquiry, but the interim report will help the government to make immediate intervention,” added Mohapatra.
Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Catholic Archdiocese told private channel Zee News, “Justice Mohapatra had given remarks on other matters without touching the subject for which the commission was set up, to investigate culpability in the series of attacks on Christians.” Cheenath said that conversion was “not at all” a factor behind the Kandhamal violence.
The National Commission for Minorities in October 2008 had accused the then-ruling state government, a coalition of a regional party, the Biju Janata Dal (NJD) and the BJP, of not controlling the violence. It said that despite knowing that public reaction to the murder of a prominent religious leader like Laxmanananda would be extreme, there was little evidence of action by political and administrative higher-ups in Bhubaneswar, reported The Indian Express daily on Oct. 30, 2008.
In March 2009, the BJD broke its 11-year-old alliance with the BJP, saying it did not want to partner with a “communal” party. The BJD fought and won the April-May state assembly election alone. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik held the BJP and groups linked with it, such as the Hindu extremist VHP and its youth wing Bajrang Dal, responsible for the violence, according to private news channel CNN-IBN.
Report from Compass Direct News