Seven “innocent” Christians serving prison sentences for the 2008 murder of a Hindu leader in India’s eastern Odisha state have had their appeal hearings “once again” postponed, according to a Catholic journalist campaigning for their release.
The seven men, who are from the Kandhamal district of Odisha, were convicted in 2013 of murdering Swami Laxmanananda but have spent the last nine years in prison.
Journalist Anto Akkara says their convictions were based on “fabricated” evidence. He highlighted their case in his book, ‘Who Killed Swami Laxmanananda?’, and has been spearheading an online campaign for their release at www.release7innocents.com.
In 2015 two police officers involved in the case testified before a judicial inquiry that the allegations were false. In 2016 Kerala state’s Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, called for a fresh probe into the case, which he called a “concocted conspiracy”.
Shortly after the murder – which had been claimed by Maoists – Hindu mobs began months of rioting in Kandhamal that led to the deaths of almost 100 Christians, and damage to 300 churches and 6,000 homes. More than 50,000 Christians were displaced in what was the worst case of anti-Christian violence in India’s history.
A new prayer campaign helping to keep the case of the ‘Kandhamal seven’ in the public eye was launched on 15 October. Speaking at the launch event, Akkara said: “Faith must lead to action. Each Christian has a duty to raise one’s voice and pray for the seven innocent Christians languishing in jail for nine years.”