05/18/2019, 15.51
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Bishops say a priest given life in Jharkhand rape case was convicted on the basis of false charges

Fr Alphonse Aind was convicted along with five other people. He is accused of complicity in a gang rape case involving five women from an NGO. The local diocese is standing by him and will appeal the conviction.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – A Jharkhand court sentenced six defendants, including a Catholic Jesuit priest, to life in prison in connection with a high-profile rape case that occurred in June 2018.

Additional District Judge Rajesh Kumar of the Khunti District Court sentenced Fr Alphonse Aind yesterday. This was expected Wednesday, but was postponed to Friday. Fr. Alphonse Aind is already behind bars after he was convicted last week.

Meanwhile, the investigation of the two nuns who run the NGO to which the victims belong, continues.

Fr Xavier Soreng, a confrere of Fr Aind, spoke to AsiaNews about the affair. "We will appeal to the High Court. We have faith in the judiciary," he explained. "Under the circumstances, he expected such a sentence,” Fr Xavier said after meeting with Fr Aind, a fellow Jesuit.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India has always rejected the accusations against the clergyman as false. For the judge though, there were no doubts about the clergyman’s complicity in the abduction and gang rape of the victims.

In addition to the six people already convicted, two other people are involved in the case: one is on the run; the other, a minor, was remanded to a juvenile court.

Despite the conviction and sentence, the case against Fr Aind remains murky with respect to the events that led to charges against him.

The rape occurred on 19 June 2018 in Kochang, Khunti District. The victims had to come to the village to take part in a rally against human trafficking and perform in a play at the Stockman Memorial Middle School.

The five victims were four teenage girls and a woman, members of Asha Kiran (Ray of Hope), a rehab centre run by Ursuline nuns in Fudi, about 20 km from Ranchi.

At one point, a group of masked men surrounded the activists as they made their way towards the school, which is next to the Church of the Sacred Heart, where Fr Aind is parish priest.

Threatened by weapons, the five victims were forced to go with the kidnappers into the jungle where they were gang-raped.

The authorities blame Fr Aind for not reporting the incident. The police also accuse him of negligence for allowing the group of women to go out into the street with the nuns, despite the threat of criminals.

However, for Sr Julia George, an Ursuline nun in Ranchi, the charges against the priest are a fabrication. The decision to perform the show in the school where Fr Aind is the principal was pure coincidence.

The play was originally supposed to be held in a market; however, the latter had no public; hence the decision to move to the school.

Sr Ranjeeta Kindo, one of the nuns under investigation, was told that the school had 500 students, and so she changed the venue at the last minute, without warning. Therefore, the prosecution’s charge of premeditation does not hold.

(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this article)

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