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Christians Sentenced to Life in Prison

October 31, 2013 by Open Doors in General

Christians Sentenced to Life in Prison

On August 24, 2008, one of the most brutal attacks against Christians in recent history broke out in Orissa, India after Hindu extremist organizations blamed Christians for the murder of one of their leaders, Laxmanananda Saraswati.  

The killings touched off a wave of religous violence throughout Orissa state, much of it directed at Christians. The violent uprising lasted more than seven weeks, leaving a swath of bloodshed and despair in its wake. During the violence in Kandhamal alone, more than 300 villages were ransacked. It is estimated that more than 120 Christians were murdered, some of them dragged from their homes and burned. At least 252 churches and Christian institutions were destroyed, more than 52,000 people fled for their lives into nearby forests, and some 6,000 houses were burned or destroyed.  

Eight men were convicted of murdering Saraswati and four companions at his hermitage in the rural heart of Orissa state. As a mob of about 50 people surrounded the hermitage, several armed members of the crowd opened fire. The prosecution claimed that the accused men killed Saraswati because they believed he was converting Christians to Hinduism. “The judge convicted them purely on the basis of circumstantial evidence and the deposition of witnesses,” reporters said.

Five years after the violent events, the seven Christians have been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Saraswati. There was little evidence warranting the convictions, and the accused and their lawyer are planning to appeal. An eighth defendant, Pulari Rama Rao, a leader in India’s Communist Naxalite movement, also received a life sentence.

Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, said the story was heartbreaking. “Seven people have already lost five precious years of their lives in prison without a fair trial. And thousands of other Christians who survived the most brutal wave of attacks are still living in fear.”
Six days after handing down the men’s sentences, the same Phulbani court, cited a lack of evidence in their acquittal of five defendants accused of burning down a house during the 2008 violence that followed Saraswati’s murder. George said that such decisions were evidence of the prejudice that exists against India’s Christian minority.

Father, at times like these, we are reminded that we are wanderers and sojourners in this sometimes hostile world; our true home is with You. We pray that You will give these seven men sentenced to prison an awareness of Your presence with them and of our prayers on their behalf. We fellow sojourners understand on various levels their alienation with the world and we are walking along side them in prayer. We pray that true justice would prevail, that their sentences would be revoked. And we pray for the thousands of Christians who remain free yet are imprisoned with fear following the attacks. Release them from fear with Your perfect peace. Grant them continuing courage to lead godly lives before their Hindu neighbors that Your kingdom might be built. In the name of Jesus who has walked victoriously before us on the path of earthly persecution, Amen.

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