Survivors Desperately Seek Loved Ones in Jos, Nigeria Blast
The following article reports on the bombing of the St. Finbarr’s Catholic Church in Jos, Nigeria. The bombing was carried out by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram.
The articles linked to above are by Compass Direct News and relate to persecution of Christians around the world. Please keep in mind that the definition of ‘Christian’ used by Compass Direct News is inclusive of some that would not be included in a definition of Christian that I would use or would be used by other Reformed Christians. The articles do however present an indication of persecution being faced by Christians around the world.
Hindu nationalists continue to oppress Christians in Kandhamal district, report says.
NEW DELHI, November 11 (CDN) — More than two years after losing relatives and property in anti-Christian violence, there is no sense of relief among survivors in India’s Orissa state, as many are still ostracized and pressured to “return” to Hinduism, according to a private investigation.
“Despite the state administration’s claim of normalcy,” the preliminary report of a fact-finding team states, “a state of lawlessness and utter fear and sense of insecurity” prevails among Christians of Kandhamal district, which saw a major anti-Christian bloodbath in 2008.
The team, consisting of local attorney Nicholas Barla and another identified only as Brother Marcus, along with rights activists Jugal Kishore Ranjit and Ajay Kumar Singh, visited four villages in three blocks of Kandhamal on Nov. 5.
In Bodimunda village in Tikabali, the team met a pastor who said he has been closely watched since Hindu extremists forced him to become a Hindu. The pastor, whose name the report withheld for security reasons, said he had to convert to Hinduism in 2008 “to save his old mother, who could not have escaped the violence as she was not in a position to walk.”
He is still closely watched in an effort to prevent him from returning to Christianity. While the attorneys and activists were still at the pastor’s house, a man who identified himself as from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, India’s most influential Hindu nationalist conglomerate) came to inquire about his visitors. The pastor felt compelled to tell them that they were “bank officials.”
In the same village, Hindu nationalists have also imposed a de facto ban on any private or public vehicle to ferry Christians or their belongings, said the report.
The team met the family of a paralyzed Christian, Bamadev Pradhan, whom auto-rickshaw drivers refused to take to a hospital when he recently ran a high fever. Eventually a Christian driver took him to the only hospital in Tikabali, around eight kilometers (nearly five miles) from his village of Bodimunda, but as the Christian was driving back, some local men confiscated his vehicle.
With the help of the auto-rickshaw union, the driver (unnamed in the report) got the vehicle released after paying a fine of 1,051 (US$24) rupees and promising that he would not transport any Christians in the future.
Another Christian said area Hindus extremists prohibited Christians from procuring basic necessities.
“We are not allowed to bring housing materials or food provisions or medicines, and nor are we allowed to buy anything from local shops,” he said. “We do not have any shop of our own. Here, we are struggling to live as human beings.”
The team also met a Hindu who had to pay 5,000 rupees (US$112) to get his tractor returned to him, as he had transported housing material for the construction of the house of a Christian.
In the house of a Christian in Keredi village in Phulbani Block, the team found a picture of a Hindu god. The resident, who was not identified in the report, explained that he had to display it in order to protect his family from harm.
The team found pictures of Hindu gods also in the house of a Christian in Gandapadar village in the Minia area, Phiringia Block. A woman in the house told the team that local Hindu nationalists had given her pictures of Hindu gods for worship.
“We have kept them, as they often come to check whether we have reconverted to Christianity,” she said.
Almost all Christians the team met complained that the local administration had done little to protect them and suspected that officials colluded with area Hindu nationalists.
Released on Nov. 8, the report asserts that Christians have been barred from taking water from a government well in Dakanaju village, under G. Udayagiri police jurisdiction in Tikabali Block. The village head, Sachindra Pradhan, has promised to take action “at the earliest,” it added.
Violence in Kandhamal and some other districts of Orissa state followed the assassination of Hindu nationalist leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23, 2008. The rampage killed over 100 people and burned 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions, according to estimates by human rights groups.
The spate of attacks began a day after Saraswati’s killing when Hindu nationalist groups blamed Christians for his murder, although Maoists (extreme Marxists) active in the district claimed responsibility for it.
John Dayal, a Christian activist in Delhi, told Compass that “the apparatus of 2008 remains undisturbed.” The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was part of the ruling state alliance with the regional Biju Janata Dal (BJD) party at the time of the violence. Although the BJD broke up with the BJP in 2009, blaming it for the violence, the former cannot be excused, said Dayal.
“While the BJP is mainly to be blamed, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is not entirely innocent,” Dayal said. “Not just that he allowed the BJP and RSS cadres to run amok when they were part of his government, turning a blind eye to their very visible anti-Christian activities, but he was his own home [interior] minister and cannot really shirk command responsibility for the carnage together with his BJP ministerial colleagues and senior officers.”
Kandhamal district Magistrate Krishan Kumar, who was on a tour at press time, could not be contacted for comment despite repeated attempts.
Of the 648,201 people in Kandhamal district, 117,950 are Christian, mostly Dalit (formerly “untouchables” in the caste hierarchy in Hindu societies), according to the 2001 Census. Hindus, mainly tribal people and numbering 527,757, form the majority.
Report from Compass Direct News
Manoj Pradhan arrested; three more cases pending against Hindu nationalist.
NEW DELHI, September 10 (CDN) — A Hindu nationalist legislator was arrested yesterday after a court pronounced him guilty of playing a major role in the murder of a Christian during anti-Christian carnage in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district in August 2008.
The Fast Track Court II in Kandhamal convicted Manoj Pradhan of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the murder of a 30-year-old Christian, Bikram Nayak, who succumbed to head injuries two days after an attack by a mob in the Raikia area of Budedi village on Aug. 25, 2008.
Judge Chitta Ranjan Das sentenced Pradhan to six years of rigorous imprisonment for “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code and imposed a fine of 15,500 rupees (US$335) for setting houses ablaze.
Pradhan, who contested and won the April 2009 state assembly election from jail representing Kandhamal’s G. Udayagiri constituency, was not initially accused in the police complaint in Nayak’s murder, but his role emerged during the investigation, according to The Hindu.
One of the primary suspects in violence that followed the assassination of Hindu nationalist leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23, 2008, Pradhan was initially arrested in Berhampur city in neighboring Ganjam district in December 2008. The violence began a day after Saraswati’s killing when Hindu nationalist groups blamed Christians for his murder, although Maoists (extreme Marxists) claimed responsibility for it.
In spite of this week’s conviction, the Orissa state unit of the BJP said the case against Pradhan was weak.
“The case is not strong,” Orissa BJP President Jual Oram told Compass by telephone. “Pradhan was merely present at the scene of crime.”
Pradhan was named in at least 12 police complaints concerning murder and arson. But after he won the election, he was released on bail.
This is the 36-year-old Pradhan’s second conviction. On June 29, Kandhamal’s Fast Track Court I sentenced him to seven years in jail in a case concerning the murder of another Christian, Parikhita Nayak, also from Budedi village, who was killed on Aug. 27, 2008. Though not convicted of murder, Pradhan was found guilty of rioting and causing grievous hurt in the Parikhita Nayak case.
The June 29 judgment led to his arrest, but the Orissa High Court granted him bail eight days later.
The BJP will challenge the convictions in a higher court, Oram said.
Last month Kanaka Rekha Nayak, widow of Parikhita Nayak, complained that despite the conviction of Pradhan and an accomplice, they were immediately given bail and continued to roam the area, often intimidating her.
Rekha Nayak was among 43 survivors who on Aug. 22-24 testified in Delhi before the National People’s Tribunal (NPT), a private hearing of victims of the Kandhamal violence organized by the National Solidarity Forum, a confederation of 60 non-profit groups and people’s movements.
Nayak said local politicians, including Pradhan, hit her husband with an axe. Her husband’s body was later chopped into pieces, she recalled as she sobbed during testimony at the tribunal, headed by Justice A.P. Shah, former chief justice of Delhi High Court.
The fast track courts set up especially to hear cases related to the anti-Christian violence have acquitted Pradhan in seven cases for lack of evidence. Three more cases are pending against him.
The state BJP’s Oram said Christians had created “hype” about the cases against Pradhan to “trouble us.” He added, “The state government is not doing anything to arrest and try the killers of the Swami.”
The NPT tribunal asserted that between August and December 2008, about 2,000 people were “forced to repudiate their Christian faith.”
The tribunal cited government figures asserting that during the violence from August to December 2008, more than 600 villages were ransacked, 5,600 houses were looted and burned, 54,000 people were left homeless, and 38 people were murdered in Kandhamal alone. It also noted that human rights groups estimated that over 100 people were killed, including women, disabled and aged persons and children, and “an un-estimated number suffered severe physical injuries and mental trauma.”
While there were reports of four women being gang-raped, many more victims of sexual assault were believed to have been intimidated into silence, the tribunal concluded.
As many as 295 church buildings and other places of worship, big and small, were destroyed, and 13 schools, colleges, and offices of five non-profit organizations damaged, it said, adding that about 30,000 people were uprooted and living in relief camps, with many of them still displaced.
“More than 10,000 children had their education severely disrupted due to displacement and fear,” it reported. “Today, after two years, the situation has not improved, although the administration time and again claims it is peaceful and has returned to normalcy.”
The Christian community was deliberately targeted by Hindu nationalist groups such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), the Bajrang Dal and the active members of Bharatiya Janata Party,” the tribunal concluded.
The jury also observed that cries against religious conversions were used as for political mobilization and “to incite horrific forms of violence and discrimination against the Christians” of Dalit (formerly “untouchables” according the caste hierarchy in Hinduism) origin.
“The object is to dominate them and ensure that they never rise above their low caste status and remain subservient to the upper castes,” it added.
The jury accused police of complicity, which “was not an aberration of a few individual police men, but evidence of an institutional bias against the targeted Christian community.”
“The jury is constrained to observe that public officials have colluded in the destruction of evidence, and there is testimony directly implicating the District Collector [the administrative head of a district] in this misdemeanor.”
The jury expressed concern over the lack of mechanisms to protect victims “who have dared to lodge complaints and witnesses who have courageously given evidence in court,” as they “are unable to return to their homes.”
“There is no guarantee of safe passage to and from the courts. They are living in other cities and villages, many of them in hiding, as they apprehend danger to their lives.”
It also noted mental trauma in children.
“There has been no trauma counselling for the affected children and adolescents in Kandhamal. Even today they have nightmares of running in the jungle, with the killers in pursuit, are scared of any loud sound and are afraid of people walking in groups or talking loudly.”
Bollywood lyricist Javed Akhtar, who was part of the tribunal, said that incidents such as the Kandhamal carnage against religious minorities continued to happen with “alarming frequency” in India.
“As citizens of this democracy, we should hang our heads in shame,” he said.
Report from Compass Direct News
After months of asking, delegation wins clearance to enter Kandhamal district.
NEW DELHI, January 29 (CDN) — Weary of international scrutiny of troubled Kandhamal district in Orissa state, officials yesterday finally allowed delegates from the European Union (EU) to visit affected areas – as long as they do no fact-finding.
A team of 13 diplomats from the EU was to begin its four-day tour of Kandhamal district yesterday, but the federal government had refused to give the required clearance to visit the area, which was wracked by anti-Christian violence in 2008. A facilitator of the delegation said that authorities then reversed themselves and yesterday gave approval to the team.
The team plans to visit Kandhamal early next month to assess the state government’s efforts in rehabilitating victims and prosecuting attackers in the district, where a spate of anti-Christian violence in August-September 2008 killed over 100 people and burned 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions.
When the federal government recommended that Orissa state officials allow the delegation to visit the area, the state government agreed under the condition that the diplomats undertake no fact-finding, according to the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency. The government stipulated to the EU team, led by the deputy chief of mission of the Spanish embassy, Ramon Moreno, that they are only to interact with local residents. The delegation consented.
Delegates from the EU had also sought a visit to Kandhamal in November 2009, but the government denied permission. The diplomats from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Finland were able to make it only to the Orissa state capital, Bhubaneswar, at that time.
Ironically, three days before the government initially denied permission to the EU team, the head of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Mohan Bhagwat, visited Orissa and addressed a huge rally of its cadres in Bhubaneswar, reported PTI on Tuesday (Jan. 26).
While Bhagwat was not reported to have made an inflammatory speech, many Christians frowned on his visit. It is believed that his organization was behind the violence in Kandhamal, which began after a leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP), Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, was killed by Maoists (extreme Marxists) on Aug. 23, 2008. Hindu extremist groups wrongly blamed it on local Christians in order to stir up anti-Christian violence.
On Nov. 11, Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik told the state assembly House that 85 people from the RSS, 321 members of the VHP and 118 workers of the Bajrang Dal, youth wing of the VHP, were rounded up by the police for the attacks in Kandhamal.
It is believed that New Delhi was hesitant to allow EU’s teams into Kandhamal because it has indicted India on several occasions for human rights violations. Soon after violence broke out in Kandhamal, the European Commission, EU’s executive wing, called it a “massacre of minorities.”
Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, who was attending the ninth India-EU summit in France at the time of the violence, called the anti-Christian attacks a “national shame.” French President Nicolas Sarkozy, head of the European Council, and Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, took up the issue “strongly with Singh,” reported The Times of India on Sept. 30, 2008.
On Aug. 17, 2009, the EU asked its citizens not to visit Kandhamal in an advisory stating that religious tensions were not yet over. “We therefore advise against travel within the state and in rural areas, particularly in the districts of Kandhamal and Bargarh,” it stated.
The EU’s advisory came at a time when the state government was targeting the visit of 200,000 foreign tourists to Orissa, noted PTI.
Kandhamal Superintendent of Police Praveen Kumar suggested that the advisory was not based on truth.
“There is no violence in Kandhamal since October 2008,” he told PTI. “The people celebrated Christmas and New Year’s Day as peace returned to the tribal dominated district.”
Before denying permission to the EU, the Indian government had restricted members of a U.S. panel from coming to the country. In June 2009, the government refused to issue visas for members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to visit Orissa. The panel then put India on its “Watch List” for the country’s violations of religious freedom.
Local human rights activist Ajay Singh said that while the state government had made some efforts to rehabilitate the victims, a lot more needed to be done.
An estimated 300 families are still living in private relief camps in Kandhamal, and at least 1,200 families have left Kandhamal following the violence, he said. These families have not gone back to their villages, fearing that if they returned without converting to Hinduism they would be attacked, he added.
Singh also said that authorities have asked more than 100 survivors of communal violence living in an abandoned market complex known as NAC, in G. Udayagiri area of Kandhamal, to move out. He said it is possible they were asked to leave because of the intended visit of the EU team.
Of the more than 50,000 people displaced by the violence, around 1,100 have received some compensation either from the government or from Christian and other organizations, he added.
Additionally, the state administration has to do much more in bringing the attackers to justice, said a representative of the Christian Legal Association. Of the total 831 police cases registered, charges have been filed in around 300 cases; 133 of these have been dropped due to “lack of evidence,” said the source.
Report from Compass Direct News
Authorities allegedly kill young man in custody on contrived charge of desecrating Quran.
LAHORE, Pakistan, September 17 (CDN) — At a funeral for a Christian man allegedly tortured to death while in custody on a spurious charge of blaspheming the Quran, police in Sialkot, Pakistan yesterday fired on mourners trying to move the coffin to another site.
Area Christians suspect police killed 22-year-old Robert Danish, nicknamed “Fanish” or “Falish” by friends, by torturing him to death on Tuesday (Sept. 15) after the mother of his Muslim girlfriend contrived a charge against him of desecrating Islam’s scripture. The allegation led to calls from mosque loudspeakers to punish Christians, prompting an Islamic mob to attack a church building in Jathikai village on Friday (Sept. 11) and beat several of the 30 families forced to flee their homes.
Jathikai was Danish’s native village, and some family members and other Christians wished to transfer his coffin to his hometown. Eyewitnesses at the funeral in Christian Town, Sialkot, said police fired shots directly at the Christians, injuring three, when mourners began to move the coffin toward nearby Jathikai. Mourners fled.
Sialkot is 125 kilometers (78 miles) northwest of Lahore in Punjab Province.
Controversy swirled around the cause of Danish’s death, with Christians refusing to accept police claims that he committed suicide. Results of forensic tests are expected within a week.
The dark moment for Danish’s family grew gloomier yesterday when police seemed to be seeking the first excuse for heavy-handed tactics at the funeral attended by hundreds of people, Christian sources said. When the family and other Christians tried to take the coffin to his hometown of Jathikai, police fired on them, charged them with batons and snatched the body from them, Christian sources said.
Eyewitness Sajawal Masih told Compass that as soon as mourners lifted the coffin, police began firing tear gas.
“We were running when police opened fire and one bullet went through my foot, and two others also were injured,” he said.
There were reports of Christian youths pelting officers with stones, and police reportedly said that they needed to rush the crowd and make arrests to prevent “further disturbances.”
On Tuesday night (Sept. 15), Danish’s survivors and other Christians had decided that the body would be buried in Christian Town because of the dangers of potential attack in Jathikai, according to Christian Town Councilor Tanveer Saqib. Saqib said that the funeral was to be held at 10 a.m. on Wednesday (Sept. 16) at the Christian Technical Institute (CTI) Ground in Christian Town, Sialkot city.
Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) Member of National Assembly (MNA) Akram Gill said that when he and several youths took the body from the CTI Ground and began heading toward Jathikai village, police began firing. Gill told Compass that police opened fire on them as well as the crowd, injuring three Christians.
Gill, a Christian, added that police also shot tear gas, and that officers arrested about 100 Christians. The national assembly member said police arrested him and took Danish’s body to the Christian Town Graveyard in Sialkot. In spite of the tear gas, Gill said, he and others went to the graveyard but encountered armed police who also fired tear gas, turning them back.
For three hours, Gill said, Criminal Investigation Department police detained him, and although he was released, police arrested PML-Q Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA) Shehzad Elahi and his whereabouts were still unknown. He said that whenever Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) members come into power in the province, problems for Christians multiply.
Cause of Death
How Danish died remained unclear. Allama Iqbal Hospital Deputy Medical Superintendent Sajid Hussein told Compass that on Danish’s body there was a large welt on the back of the neck and “marks on the legs and back.” He said it was too soon to determine cause of death but that police had pronounced it a suicide.
Tissues taken from the body have been sent to Lahore for chemical and histopathology tests. He said these tests would indicate how the wounds were made, including whether they were inflicted after death.
“The report of these tests would come within a week, and I would inform the media of its findings,” he said. “I cannot comment on whether he committed suicide or not, as the matter is before the court.”
There were unconfirmed reports that state officials were pressuring doctors at Allama Iqbal Hospital to declare Danish’s death a suicide; Hussein denied these statements, telling Compass that they were “mere rumors.”
Hussein said that two Christian doctors, one from Bethania Hospital and the medical superintendent of Jalalpur Jattan Mission Hospital, were allowed to observe the autopsy. Christian Town Councilor Tanveer Saqib said that after the autopsy, the two Christian doctors came out and told media in front of thousands of Christians that Danish had been tortured to death.
Saqib said Danish’s father received the body and, accompanied by thousands of Christians, took it to Baithania Mission Hospital. The procession was so big that it took nearly four hours, though the route was not far.
Over the weekend Danish’s father had been unduly arrested, and upon his release a station house officer told Danish’s uncle, Saleem Masih, that even though Danish’s father was being released, Danish never would be. Saleem Masih told Compass that Danish’s father went back to his jailed son and told him, “My son, we have been trying our best to save you, but it doesn’t seem we will succeed. I think it is the last time I’m seeing you, so I commit you in the Lord’s hands.”
Councilor Saqib said that a Christian constable posted at the Sialkot District Jail told him that he saw Danish in the jail at around 7 a.m. and that he appeared unharmed. At about 10 a.m., however, jail administrators called important figures in the Christian community and told them that Danish had committed suicide, Saqib said.
Danish’s body was taken to a trauma center for a CT scan, he said, then to Riffat Idrees Hospital for an MRI.
“Along with the body were two Christian doctors – Dr. Tariq Malik and Dr. Qammar Sohail – and we were confident that they would tell the facts,” he said, adding that Malik had all medical reports of these tests.
The Punjab provincial government has ordered an investigation into the death, and three prison officials have reportedly been suspended.
A paternal cousin of Danish identified only as Parveen confirmed reports that the conflict grew out of a romantic relationship between Danish and Hina Asghar, a young Muslim woman. She said Danish and Asghar were neighbors and had been seeing each other for three or four years.
On the night of Sept. 10, Parveen told Compass, Danish and Asghar met on the roof, angering the young Muslim’s mother. Early the next morning, Asghar’s mother spoke of the affair with the wife of local Muslim cleric identified only as Amanullah; the cleric’s wife in turn warned Asghar that both she and Danish could lose their lives if the relationship continued, Parveen said.
When Danish met Asghar on the road the next morning, Parveen said, the young Muslim woman refused to talk to him but tried to hand him a letter explaining the warning she had received. Upset, Danish batted her hand away as she was trying to give him the letter.
“Because he pushed her hand with a jerk, supara 21 [a section of the Quran larger than a sura, or chapter] fell from her hand and dropped onto a nearby sewage stream and got smeared with garbage,” Parveen said.
Saleem Masih, Danish’s uncle, questions that what fell from Asghar’s hand was a part of the Quran. He told Compass that Asghar was trying to give Danish a green-colored diary that only looked like the similarly green-covered section of the Quran. After the rumor began circulating that Danish had blasphemed the Quran, Saleem Masih said, Danish told his mother that it was not the Quran but a green diary that Asghar was trying to give him which fell.
According to Parveen, Asghar returned home and began cleaning the recovered scripture part, and her mother asked how it became sullied, Parveen said. Asghar’s mother subsequently rushed to cleric Amanullah’s wife, who then told her husband about the incident.
Saleem Masih told Compass that he and his wife, along with Danish’s parents, went to Hina Asghar’s father, Asghar Ali, bowed before him and pleaded for him to stop the false rumors of desecration of the Quran. He responded that Muslim cleric Amanullah would decide on it after the Friday prayers, and that the matter was not in their hands anymore.
On that day, Sept. 11, at about 11 a.m., the Muslim cleric announced during the Friday prayer that a Christian had blasphemed by desecrating the Quran, Parveen said.
Islamic mobs brandishing sticks were already arriving in the village, shouting against Danish and demanding that he be hung to death. They also occupied a house that he owned. Surrounding families fled their homes, leaving domestic animals without food and water.
Nadeem Masih, a paternal cousin of Danish, said that when he arrived at the village by motorbike that day, a large number of emotionally charged Muslims were setting Calvary Church on fire.
He said several Muslims had surrounded Danish’s father, Riasat Masih, and that he managed to get his uncle onto his motorbike to try to escape. They sped through several mob attempts to stop them and were eventually pursued by two Muslims on motorcycles. As Nadeem and Riasat Masih entered the main road, their motorbike slid and fell as they barely avoided an approaching truck. Nadeem Masih escaped but his uncle, Danish’s father, was captured.
Saleem Masih said that the Muslim mob took hold of Danish’s father, tied him up and were about to set him on fire when elderly men intervened, saying punishment for that crime would be too great, and suggested they instead only beat him. After beating Danish’s father, the Muslim mob untied him and took him into the church, where they burned Bibles, hymn books and other items and continued beating him.
Christian sources said police arrived and arrested Riasat Masih – not his attackers – and took him to the police station. Riasat Masih filed a crime report against the jailor and police officials at the Civil Lines Police Station, according to Christian Town Councilor Saqib.
Saleem Masih told Compass that he also was beaten. He said he was with Calvary Church Senior Pastor Dilshad Masih when they arrived in the village to find the mob setting church articles on fire and striking it with whatever they could find on hand. Realizing he could do nothing, Saleem Masih said he ran to his farmhouse, also owned by a Muslim named Bao Munir.
Munir took hold of him, he said.
“He brought out my cot and other belongings and set them on fire, and then he also tried to burn me in this fire,” Saleem Masih said.
Munir told him he could either be burned or go with him back to the village, and he forced all of the Christian’s clothes off of him except a cloth covering his loins and burned them, Saleem Masih said. After some struggle, he said, he managed to escape.
Danish, meantime, was hiding in a house in Jathikai village but was arrested the next morning (Sept. 12) when he went out for drinking water.
Tensions escalated, a source told Compass, when cleric Sabir Ali announced from his mosque in nearby Bhopalwala village that a Christian boy had blasphemed Islam by throwing the Quran in a drain.
After Calvary Church was set on fire, about 30 nearby families fled from the brutal beatings. Eyewitnesses told Compass that the assailants first went to Danish’s house. Not finding anyone there, they attacked the locked church which was only three houses from his.
The eyewitnesses, who were still in hiding and fearing further attacks, said that the assailants burned Bibles and hymnbooks. The assailants brought the church cross out, they said, and beat it with their shoes. The sources said the attackers were mainly from Shabab-e-Milli, a wing of the Muslim extremist Jamaat-e-Islami.
Christian Town Councilor Saqib said that the mob got hold of Calvary Church Senior Pastor Masih and severely beat him while police stood by. Police kept Saqib and his team from going to the blazing Calvary Church building, signaling them from afar not to come near, he said. He added that they had to turn back as the rampaging Muslims turned on them to attack, which police made no effort to stop.
Pastor Masih told Compass that when he and Saleem Masih arrived at the church building, Muslims shouted at them, “Catch these Christians!” He remained standing as others fled, he said, and the mob beat him and took his mobile phone.
“They wanted to kill me, but miraculously I managed to run from there,” he said.
Saqib said MPA Kamran Michael of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PLM-N), the ruling party in Punjab province, reached the village on Friday, but police did not allow him to go to the burning church, citing security threats. About 500 Christians later gathered in Sialkot to protest the church fire, with Michael addressing the crowd.
Michael said that one of the protestors reminded him that after Islamic mobs burned homes in Gojra last month, he had vowed to resign if further attacks took place. The crowd then began demanding that he resign, and police opened fire and charged the crowd with batons. He added that throughout the incident there were several media vans, but none of the major television stations covered the protest.
Several Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Christian media also faced difficulties in getting in the village, though in all previous incidents media and NGOs were allowed access. In this case, however, police told them that they were not allowed due to security reasons. Also unable to gain access to Jathikai was Pakistan People’s Party provincial Assembly Member Amna Buttar and minority rights groups.
George and Butta Masih, along with four family members, were in Jathikai tending to their five cows on Sunday (Sept. 13). George Masih told a Compass reporter who had somehow got into the village that they stayed home all day and went out only at night to bring some fodder for the animals. They said that Muslims would beat any Christians seen during the day.
On Sunday about 500 to 700 Muslim women staged a protest in Sialkot to refute the notion that a Muslim woman could fall in love with a Christian man.
Several Christian and secular organizations in Lahore have scheduled a candle-light vigil today (Sept. 17) as a memorial for Danish and other members of Pakistan’s minority communities who have been killed or attacked in Islamist attacks.
A field officer for advocacy group Community Development Initiative, Napoleon Qayyum, said such attacks were weakening the Christian community.
“After the Gojra incident, several Christians said that their Muslim employers had told them not to come to work anymore,” Qayyum said. “This economic dependence further plays part in seeking justice.”
He added that in the June 30 Islamist attack on Bahmaniwala, in Kasur district, Christians did not want to pursue justice as they worked on Muslims’ land and could not afford confrontation.
“Their fear is that they would be left without jobs,” he said. “Due to economic dependence and poor status, Christians neither pursue their cases, nor do they defend themselves in such instances.”
Report from Compass Direct News
A human rights organization has just learned that Lao soldiers captured, mutilated and decapitated a two-month-old girl during recent military attacks against Hmong and Laotian civilians. Survivors of the attack said the infant was used for target practice, reports Jeremy Reynalds, correspondent for ASSIST News Service.
Laos is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and People’s Republic of China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south and Thailand to the west.
Speaking in a news release from human rights organization International Christian Concern (ICC), Vaughn Vang, the Director of the Lao Hmong Human Rights Council, said, “We are told, by some of the Lao Hmong survivors of the recent military attacks in Laos, that the LPDR (Lao Peoples Democratic Republic) soldiers of the LPA (Lao Peoples Army) used the … Lao Hmong girl, while she was still alive, for target practice … once she was captured and tied up; they mutilated her little body and continued to fire their weapons, over and over … until her head just eventually came off after so many bullets severed her head.”
ICC said the Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) reported the incidents, claiming that eight children were captured and 26 Hmong and Laotian civilians were murdered during a series of four major attacks over the past month. They were apparently designed to stifle “religious and political dissidents” ahead of a visit by U.S. Senator Jim Webb. Christian Hmong were mostly certainly among those attacked as they are often targeted specifically by the regime.
With ages ranging from two months to eight years old, ICC reported that the captured children remain a concern to Vang, who said that their whereabouts were unknown and that they would likely be tortured and killed by the soldiers. The decapitated child’s body was found next to her mother, who had also been tortured and killed by Lao soldiers. A number of the female victims were raped and tortured before they were killed. The most recent attack occurred on Aug. 13.
Unfortunately, this level of brutality against women and children is not uncommon for Lao soldiers, ICC reported. It is standard procedure for soldiers to surround and isolate pockets of Hmong people and starve them out to be killed when they venture out to forage.
Philip Smith, the Executive Director of CPPA, told ICC of video footage smuggled out of Laos in 2004 that documents the aftermath of the killing and brutalization of five Hmong children, four of them girls, on May 19 2004.
That footage was used in the graphic documentary, “Hunted Like Animals,” by Rebecca Sommer. Clips can be viewed at rebeccasommer.org, but they contain highly graphic content.
Natalia Rain, ICC’s Regional Manager for East Asia, said in the news release, “Rights groups have rightly called the acts the Lao military commits against children and civilians war crimes. Let the international community not be guilty of the same by its silence in the face of a regime who has already been allowed so much room that it has reached the heights of sadism in the torture and decapitation of a two-month-old little girl.”
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Supreme Court rules their rights were violated; violence threatened in Chiapas.
MEXICO CITY, Aug. 13 (Compass Direct News) – At least 20 men accused of participating in a massacre in Chiapas state in December 1997 left prison early this morning – amid concerns over threats of violence at their home communities near San Cristobal de las Casas – following a Supreme Court ruling yesterday that their convictions violated fundamental norms of justice.
The release of the 20 men, most of them evangelical Christians, came after Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled in a 4-1 decision that they had been convicted in unfair trials in which prosecutors fabricated testimony and illegally obtained evidence. Area evangelicals view the imprisoned Christians as caught between survivors clamoring for convictions and government police and military forces eager to shift blame away from their minions following the Dec. 22, 1997 killing of 45 civilians in Acteal village.
“Acteal is a double tragedy,” attorney Javier Cruz Angulo reportedly said after the ruling. “On the one hand you have an abominable massacre, and on the other more than 50 human beings imprisoned without proofs.”
The court will review the cases of another 31 men convicted in connection with the massacre, and six more will be given new trials, according to news reports.
The identities of those released were not immediately known. As 32 of those imprisoned for the crime were Christians and another 15 received Christ while in prison, most of the previous total of 57 prisoners are Christians.
“In prison, the majority of us converted to the Presbyterian faith,” Tomas Perez Mendez, 60, told El Universal before the Supreme Court decision; at press time it was not known if he was among those released.
He told the Mexican newspaper that he bears no resentment even though his imprisonment led to illnesses that contributed to the deaths of family members. “My wife is ill, my father and one brother died from sorrow at seeing us here in prison . . . I no longer feel anger or resentment against those who accused me, and I plan to preach.”
Authorities had told a total of 57 prisoners that they would be freed after their paperwork was reviewed, a source in Chiapas told Compass.
“Naturally, those prisoners who had been informed of their impending release last week are extremely disappointed, as well wondering if they will ever be released,” said the source, who requested anonymity.
Two brothers, Pablo and Juan Hernandez Perez, reportedly said that they have no home to return to; their house was burned to the ground while they were in prison. Another hoping for release, Javier Vazquez Luna, told El Universal he played no part in the crime, and that indeed his father was one of the victims of the massacre.
The Supreme Court justices stated that they were not ruling on the guilt or innocence of the men, only on the violation of due process.
“During the investigation, their constitutional rights were violated,” the court said in a statement. “The majority of cases … were based on the use of illegally obtained evidence.”
In recent months relatives of the imprisoned men ratcheted up citizen campaigns seeking their freedom, backed by many others. For several years Presbyterian churches have carried banners outside their buildings requesting justice for those wrongly convicted in the Acteal violence. The Chiapas government had said it could do nothing because the case was under federal jurisdiction.
Pressure to reopen the case has intensified each December with remembrances of the massacre. In spite of intense political pressure to the contrary, the Supreme Court finally agreed to review the facts.
Threats of Violence
Amid statements by survivors of the Acteal crime that tensions could heighten in the area – and a grim warning from a former leader of Las Abejas, a supposedly non-violent group sympathetic to rebel militants whose members were killed in the massacre – defense attorneys and family members of the released men appealed to authorities to provide security and guarantee social peace.
“A former leader of the Abejas made a public declaration that if the men returned to their homes, the Abejas would be waiting for them, and the released prisoners would be repaid for the pain they caused 12 years ago,” the Chiapas source told Compass. “Tensions exist, and with statements like he made, the government is nervous about letting the men return to their homes due to possible violence. At this point, there are still no violent actions, but the threat of an outbreak is real.”
At press time authorities had prevented the released men from returning to the Acteal area, keeping them in a hotel in Berriozabal after loading them onto a truck through a back door of the El Amate prison at 3:35 a.m., El Universal reported.
Initially the prison director refused to see the men’s lawyers when they arrived at El Amate prison in Chiapas near midnight with orders for their release, the Compass source said.
“When he finally relented and met with the lawyers, it was only under extreme pressure from the Mexico City lawyers who refused to be dissuaded,” the source said. “There was an extended time of wrangling before the warden eventually released the prisoners, only under threat of returning to the Supreme Court and the Human Rights Commission about his intransigence.”
The released men had been promised there would be a government-paid bus waiting to take them to San Cristobal de las Casas, he said, but instead they were taken to the hotel in Berriozabal.
“The men were to meet with government officials today in Tuxtla, and we are still awaiting word on their arrival in San Cristobal after some five hours of waiting,” the source said. “It appears there are delaying tactics, hindrances and lack of cooperation in the entire release process.”
Some of the released men were able to meet with family members, and most expressed desire to return to the Acteal area, but the prison director said that authorities had determined that it was not safe for them to go back to their communities, according to El Universal. Authorities have reportedly proposed the possibility of providing them land parcels to avoid their returning to the area of the original conflict.
The evangelical Christians convicted were serving 25- or 36-year sentences and had exhausted all appeals. Some of them say they were arrested because rebel sympathizers with whom they had been embroiled in years of land disputes named them. Others said they were simply nearby when authorities made random round-ups.
Of the 34 men originally convicted, one died in prison and another had been released as a minor.
The family of one prisoner, Agustin Gomez Perez, tried to visit him in 2005. He told El Universal that they had an accident on the way, killing one small child and putting his wife in the hospital for 20 days – leaving their other five children without parents during that period.
Controversy over who killed the 45 people has revolved around whether there was a “massacre” by numerous “paramilitary” villagers or a “confrontation” between a handful of neighboring peasants and Zapatista National Liberation Army rebels. Historian Héctor Aguilar Camín has argued that there was both a confrontation and a massacre, with some overlap between each, but that they were largely separate incidents.
Five confessed killers have testified that they and four others engaged only Zapatista militia to avenge the death of a relative, while the federal attorney general’s office charged that at least 50 pro-government “paramilitaries” descended on a relief camp hermitage full of displaced peasants bent on killing and robbing them. The testimonies of the five confessed killers – four others remain at large – agree that the nine avengers were the only ones involved in the firefights, and that the decision to attack the Zapatistas was a private family decision made with no involvement from government authorities.
They also agree that the sole motive was to avenge the assassination of a relative – the latest of 18 unprosecuted murders by Zapatistas over the previous three months, according to Aguilar Camín.
Government prosecutors unduly dismissed much of the testimony of the five confessed avengers, Aguilar Camín wrote in a 2007 article for Nexos, noting that the killers testified that state security forces were nearby and did nothing. He highlights the judicial irregularities of the round-up and conviction of the peasants – apprehensions without evidence or warrant, charging 83 people with homicide when only 45 people were killed and lack of translators and attorneys for the suspects, Tzotzil Mayans who did not know Spanish.
The Supreme Court pointed out those violations in its ruling. Arturo Farela Gutierrez, head of the National Association of Evangelical Christian Churches, praised the court decision.
“We are in the presence of a court different from that of 12 years ago,” he said, according to El Universal. “The court is strengthened without fear of anything or anyone, and it’s the court that democratic Mexico needs.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Local security officials, Muslim clerics named in police complaint.
GOJRA, Pakistan, Aug. 5 (Compass Direct News) – A standoff here between Pakistani officials and Christians protesting the government’s reluctance to prosecute a murderous Islamic assault ended with officials finally consenting to file a complaint against key Muslim clerics and security officers.
On Sunday (Aug. 2) hundreds of Christians demonstrated in Gojra, where the previous day rampaging Muslims – acting on an unsubstantiated rumor of “blasphemy” of the Quran and whipped into a frenzy by local imams and banned terrorist groups – killed at least seven Christians, looted more than 100 houses and set fire to 50 of them. At least 19 people were injured in the melee.
In protest of government reluctance to name two security officers for negligence in connection with Christians burned to death, demonstrators on Sunday refused to quickly bury the dead as officials requested. Believing the government was stalling in registering a complaint, demonstrators put the coffins with the charred remains on railroad tracks for three hours before officials agreed to include District Police Officer (DPO) Inkasar Khan and District Coordinating Officer (DCO) Sikandar Baloch in the complaint filed against more than 20 named and 800 unnamed people.
Among those arrested include members of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a pro-Taliban, Sunni Muslim group, and its al Qaeda-linked offshoot, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi; officials said members of both groups were suspected of planning the attack in Gojra.
The Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) reported that at least 14 Christians had been killed, and Christians in the affected areas told Compass the final death toll will likely be more than 20. The only deaths confirmed by hospital officials, however, are those of seven members of a family who died when their home was set on fire; names and ages in this report vary slightly from the hospital list as they are based on Compass contact with their survivors: Hameed Masih, 75; his son Akhlaq Hameed, 55; Asia Hameed, 22, wife of Mohsin Hameed; her mother Parveen, 50; Asifa Hameed, 30 (wife of survivor Almas Hameed), and her 8-year-old daughter Umia and 4-year-old son Musa.
With the caskets containing the remains of the dead Christians sitting in public for some time, the local administration tried to force survivors to conduct a hasty funeral, telling them to hold a service in Catholic parish hall and bury the dead as soon as possible.
Federal Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and other prominent Christians met with the local administration, but negotiations failed as the two security officials were not named in the First Information report (FIR). A Catholic priest identified only as Father Mani then told protestors that an FIR had been registered and that he had seen it, and that therefore the demonstration should be called off.
But protestors did not believe him, insisting that they would not quit until they saw a copy of the FIR. Only after continued protests, with the dead bodies on the railway track for more than three hours, did officials register a case against key suspects in connection with murder, looting and violence: more than 20 identified people, including DPO Khan and DCO Baloch, who are accused of negligence in allowing the Islamic violence to erupt, and some 800 unidentified suspects.
Nevertheless, sources told Compass, the two officers have not been suspended, terminated or arrested. Rather, they have been made Special Duty Officers – an officer who is fully paid but has yet to be posted.
The FIR also names Muslim clerics of several Gojra mosques, including the imam of nearby Chamra Mandi Mosque, called Firdausia Mosque. Muslim groups held a press conference today in Gojra calling on the government to free clerics named in the FIR, according to CLAAS. They also threatened to hang Talib Masih, father of the boy who was falsely accused of tossing cut pages of the Quran into the air as part of a wedding ceremony in Korian.
The same rumor of desecration of the Quran that led to Saturday’s massive protest and attack in Gojra, 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Faisalabad, also prompted the arson assault on Thursday (July 30) by Islamic extremists on the village of Korian, seven miles from Gojra.
In the Gojra violence, several people have also implicated Qadir Awan, president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in Gojra, who was also named in the FIR. Zahid Iqbal, administrative head of a section of Gojra called Union Council-21, said that Awan had no role in the rioting.
The bodies of the seven Christians had been kept in the mortuary of Civil Hospital in Gojra, where the Christian advocacy group called Community Development Initiative (CDI) helped wash the bodies and facilitated their transfer to the families.
Amid strict security, a funeral service for the victims of the Gojra riots’ victims took place on Sunday (Aug. 2). Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah and Minorities Affairs Minister Bhatti participated in the funeral procession.
There Sanaullah announced that Punjab Chief Minister Sharif would visit the Christian community to express his condolences – “Beyond the FIR we are with you in punishing those who let this conspiracy succeed or participated in this conspiracy,” Sanaullah said – but Christians were disappointed the next day when he didn’t show.
Christians refused to speak with the representatives the chief minister had sent in his stead nor with other PML-N members. Provincial Minorities Minister Kamran Michael threatened to resign over the issue, and due to this pressure Chief Minister Sharif visited the area yesterday (Aug. 4), assuring the community that he would do his utmost to provide justice.
To assess the damage, the chief minister has constituted a 16-member group under the chairmanship of Michael.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has formed a committee to ascertain the amount of damage done during the rioting, and as soon as President Asif Ali Zardari learned of the incident he sent Minorities Minister Bhatti to Gojra.
President Zardari also announced that 500,000 rupees (US$6,040) will be made available for each person killed and 300,000 rupees (US$3,624) for those whose houses were burned. Prime Minister Gilani is also expected to announce a special package for the affected families.
A report submitted by Bhatti to the president states that the Punjab government and local administration failed to stem the violence. It adds that additional troops were not sent to help local authorities in Gojra, despite the advice of the minorities minister.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik has also sought a report from the interior secretary and the Punjab inspector general.
Farahnaz Ispahani, spokesperson for President Zardari, told Compass that after Muslims burned more than 50 homes in Korian village on July 30 and 31 – following the accusation of “blasphemy” of the Quran that proved to be false – the president asked the Punjabi government to report on it. After the subsequent Aug. 1 rioting in Gojra, she said, he immediately dispatched Bhatti to the site with orders to report back.
Ispahani said that after the president talked to Prime Minister Gilani, the prime minister called Chief Minister of the Punjab Sharif over the incident. When it became clear that police were unable to handle the matter, she said, the president ordered Rangers – paramilitary troops mainly deployed along the border for security – into Gojra to take charge and save Christians from further damage.
CDI Field Officer Napoleon Qayyum told Compass that CDI had strongly objected to the route of the Aug. 1 Islamic demonstration – which had been called to protest the release of the man whose son was falsely accused of desecrating pages of the Quran – saying he had told DPO Khan that it should not pass by any churches or Christian areas. As Islamic clerics made threatening announcements from mosques the day before the rampage, Qayyum said, DCO Baloch also had ample warning that violence was imminent.
“The way things were moving in Gojra, no rocket science was needed to predict this fallout,” he said, adding that announcements from loudspeakers mounted on vehicles broadcast how Christians had supposedly desecrated the Quran.
Punjab Minister for Law Sanaullah said an initial investigation of allegations of the Quran being blasphemed indicated “there has not been any incident of desecration.”
The CDI also objected to a two-member committee set up by provincial Chief Minister Sharif regarding violence in Korian village.
“Our objection was that no Christian was on the committee,” Qayyum said, “because how could administration and police be thought to be unbiased? It was the first step where the provincial government showed partiality.”
After Korian village Christians were attacked, the government showed no interest in arresting or reining in rampaging mobs, according to Qayyum, who said that the day after that assault he saw crowds there still armed with clubs wearing green, dark brown or black turbans, an indication that “religious fanatics were still roaming free.”
Likewise, he added, the provincial government allowed the civil administration and police to use delaying tactics in June 30 violence in Bahmaniwala village, where 110 houses were plundered and ransacked in Kasur.
Christians make up less than 5 percent of Pakistan’s 175 million population, which is mainly Muslim.
Report from Compass Direct News
State blames 2008 Kandhamal district violence on conversions, ‘reconversions.’
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