By Matters India Reporter
Bhubaneswar: On the threshold of the 10th anniversary of the orchestrated attack on Christians in jungle district of Kandhamal in Odisha in August 2008, the online signature campaign demanding the release of seven innocent Christians, languishing in jail since then, crossed the milestone of 50,000 signatures on July 11, 2018.
While thanking all those have joined the online campaign at www.release7innocents.com, journalist-author Anto Akkara who has been spearheading the campaign in a press statement on July 12 called for more signatures for the release of the seven – six of them illiterates including a mentally challenged.
The seven innocent Christians – Bhaskar Sunamajhi, Bijay Kumar Sanseth, Budhadeb Nayak, Durjo Sunamajhi, Gornath Chalenseth, Munda Badamajhi and Sanathan Badamajhi have been languishing in jail following the mysterious murder of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on the Janmashtami night – August 23, 2008.
Following the Hindu leader’s murder, nearly 100 Christians had been killed and 300 churches and 6,000 Christian houses plundered and torched in unabated violence that continued for weeks. Hindu masses – most of them illiterate – had been incited to take revenge on the Christians after the slain Swami’s body was paraded across Kandhamal for two days along a zigzag route.
A third judge of the trial court – after two judges were transferred – convicted the accused Christians to life imprisonment for the Swami’s murder in 2013 on the basis of a fabricated Christian conspiracy theory. The seven convicts constituted the ‘second batch of killers’, arrested by the police after the ‘first batch killers’ – the seven Christians who had been detained for 40 days and let off after the ‘news’ of ‘Christian conspiracy’ was publicised across the nation.
In mid-2015, two top police officials – who had relied upon the same conspiracy theory to ensure the conviction of the accused – have testified before the Kandhamal judicial Inquiry commission that the allegations were false. Yet, the hearing on the appeal of the innocent convicts has been pending in the Odisha High Court.
Akkara who has chronicled Kandhamal’s bloodshed and the travesty of justice launched the online signature campaign by bringing the illiterate wives of the innocents to New Delhi in the presence of a host of national dignitaries on March 3, 2016.
Each online signature generates three instant emails to the Chief Justice of India, President of India and Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission. On the second anniversary of the campaign, it has been modified to generate a fourth email to the High Court of Odisha as well.
The author laid bare the Kandhamal fraud and travesty of justice with his investigative book ‘Who Killed Swami Laxmanananda?’ that has been widely hailed by national celebrities and the media.
While the first 3,000 signatures took 20 months, Akkara pointed out that the campaign gained momentum from only October 2017 after he launched a prayer campaign for the release of the seven innocents. ”
Over 47,000 signatures have come since the Prayer was launched,” he added.