After spending ten years behind bars for a murder they did not commit, five Christian men in India have been acquitted and set free, as reported by CBN News.
“This is a big victory for truth and justice for Kandhamal,” said journalist Anto Akkara, who worked hard for the captives’ release. “I am thrilled.”
In 2008, the group of men were accused of killing a prominent Hindu priest, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, in the Kandhamal District. Hindu nationalists dragged the men into the police station demanding justice, despite Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda claiming responsibility for the murder.
Approximately 160 Christians were killed in the aftermath of the attack, based on lies from Hindu nationalists perpetuated of a “Christian conspiracy” in the district. Six thousand homes were also destroyed.
In November, the Supreme Court of India granted bail for the five men, citing their good behavior as the reason for their release.
“Considering the fact that the accused—appellant(s) had already undergone 10 years of their sentence as is the case of other accused directly to be released on bail, and taking an overall view of the matter, we are of the opinion that the above—named accused—appellant(s) should also be released on bail…” wrote Supreme Court Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari.
Though the men will still have to fight their case in the High Court in Odisha, they remain hopeful.
“This is like a Christmas gift for them,” said The Rev. Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India. “We are very grateful…to everyone who contributed to securing this first step to their freedom …”
Advocates fighting on behalf of the men believe that politics became too embedded in the men’s case.
“They should not have been detained for so many years,” said Rev. Dibya Paricha, a Catholic priest and attorney. “Politics should not have been involved, but, unfortunately, it was. We must understand that people’s lives and liberty are more important. I know personally that they are innocent.”
According to Open Doors USA, a nonprofit religious persecution watchdog group, India ranks #10 on for religious persecution. Many Christians experience violent attacks for their faith, including abduction, rape, and murder.
Photo courtesy: Pixabay
Mikaela Mathews is a freelance writer and editor based in Dallas, TX. She was the editor of a local magazine and a contributing writer for the Galveston Daily News and Spirit Magazine. She blogs at mikaelamathews.com.