12/19/2012, 00.00
INDIA
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Orissa: seven innocent Christians still in prison after four years

by Nirmala Carvalho
Charged in the murder of Laxamananda Saraswati, which set of the 2008 anti-Christian pogroms, the men are innocent. Even though Maoists have always claimed responsibility, police arrested them in the middle of the night on the basis of false evidence. For a Christian leader, their trial is a travesty of justice that threatens the victims and lets the guilty go.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - Seven Christians accused in the murder of Hindu leader Laxamananda Saraswati are still in prison. The latter's death sparked a violent anti-Christian pogrom in Orissa in 2008. Although Maoist took responsibility for the assassination, the seven men are still languishing behind bars four years after the event, victims of phoney trials, delays, absent judges and the inability to testify to their innocence. For Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), the seven Christians are victims of a travesty of justice in which they and witnesses are threatened and the guilty go free.

Their condition is getting more critical by the day. According to Br K.J Markose, a Monfort religious who is also their attorney, they have had seven hearings cancelled in the past 60 days. He told AsiaNews that the judge is not showing up for the trial, forcing them to go back to prison each time. This happened on Monday, when a hearing was scheduled. The next hearing is set for next Friday.

By law, "their trial should be over," Br Markose said. Their case was moved to a Fast Track Court in Phulbani. Because of the delay, the state high court began another trial, which should have ended in September with a sentence within two months. However, nothing has been done yet.

In order to raise awareness about the seven Christians, Br Markose gave AsiaNews some information about them:

Bijay Kr Sunseth, son of Salai Sunseth. Originally from Madhuguda (Kotagad). He and his wife Pabitra have six children, two sons (15 and 9) and four daughters (14, 10, 7 and 5). Because of the situation, the eldest has not been able to complete his mid-term exams. The children live in hostels paid by benefactors. The family belongs to the Baptist Church (Kandhamal Union). According the wife, Bijay was a community leader. On 13 December 2008, police summoned him to the station where he was arrested and taken to Rayagada. They claimed they captured him in the jungle.

Gornath Chalanseth, son of Bachan Chalanseth. Originally from Sartuli (Kotagad). He and his wife Ruta have an older married daughter and three sons. The oldest lives in Berhampur, where he is studying engineering and works part-time to support himself. The youngest are 12 and 9. According to his wife and brother Banga, police summoned Gornath for the first time in December 2008, and then sent him home. On the 13th of the month, they arrested him along with Bijay. In his case, they also claimed that they had captured him in the jungle.

Budhadeb Nayak, son of Muga Nayak. Originally from Kilangi (Kotagad). He and his wife Nilandri have three sons and two daughters. The two eldest sons are married, and one is Protestant clergyman in Chhattisgarh. The third is 7. His daughters are 8 and 7. According to his wife, police took him away in the middle of the night when he was asleep.

Bhaskar Sunamajhi, son of Budui Sunamajhi. Originally from Kutiguda (Kotagad). He and his wife Debaki have a son, 6, who does not go to school yet. Bhaskar was a village guard (working with police). Some 10 to 12 days before Christmas 2008, he was playing cards with friends when police told him to take money and clothing and go with them. Having done this before, Bhaskar had no qualms about doing it again. This time however, police took him away and charged him with murder.

Durjo Sunamajhi, son of Asin Sunamajhi. Originally from Budapada (Kotagad). He and his wife Gumili have three sons and due daughters. His older sons work whilst the 8-year-old goes to school. His daughters are 12 and 3 (the youngest one does not go to school yet). In October 2008, police stormed his home at night and took him away.

Munda Badmajhi, son of Dhanura Badmajhi. Originally from Duringpodi (Kotagad). He and his wife Bamdiguali have due sons and due daughters. The eldest son, 10, was in grade 4 when his father was arrested. He had to leave school to go to work. The youngest son is now 7 and a Christian clergyman is paying for his school fee. As in Durjo's case, in October 2008 police took Munda away in the middle of the night. His wife tried to give a shawl but was turned away.

Sanatan Badmajhi, son of BaldoBadmajhi. Originally from Madaguda (Kotagad). He and his wife Badusi have two sons and two daughters. The eldest daughter is 11 and attends a government school, followed by the two boys, 7 and 5, and a sister, 8. Police arrested him in Sanatan on 4 October 2008, and took him away when he was asleep.

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