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Indian court reopens church leader murder case dismissed by police

Country/Region: India, South and East Asia

A court in India has reopened the case of a murdered church leader, ordering that the killers be brought to justice after police had dismissed his death as a road accident.

The court in Baliguda, Kandhamal district, Orissa state, ruled on 7 August that Michael Nayak, who was aged around 40, was killed by Hindu extremists in July 2011. It also ordered an inquiry into the actions of the police officers who misled the initial investigation.

Victims of anti-Christian violence in India are often denied justice
Victims of anti-Christian violence in India are often denied justice

The development has been welcomed by the Christian community, who are often denied justice and feel that the police are complicit in acts of violence against them by failing to take action against the perpetrators.

Michael's body was found lying by the side of a road near the village of Mondakia; the only wound was a hole below the ear that was bleeding. Police said that the pastor had lost control of his motorbike and fallen in a ditch. But Michael's family did not think that the condition of both his body and his vehicle were consistent with this explanation and were convinced that he had been murdered; the pastor had no cuts or bruises, and there was only minimal damage to the bike.

His brother Daniel said at the time:

"The glass of the headlight came out, not even broken, and the gear shifter was damaged, otherwise the bike is in good condition. I refuse to accept the police version that he could not turn his bike at the bend of the road and fell down. In fact even his spectacles were not broken."

The evening before, two of Michael's Hindu friends had come to his village and asked him for a lift home. The church leader willingly took the pair on his motorbike, leaving at 8.30pm, and was never seen alive again.

The Global Council of Indian Christians is now calling for five other similar cases in the region that were registered by the police as accidental deaths to be reinvestigated.

One of them, which Christian activist KG Markose said "bore a startling resemblance" to Michael's death, is that of another church leader, Saul Pradhan, whose body was found near a pond in Pakala village on 11 January 2011. The pastor had likewise been taken away from his house by two Hindu friends the night before. Police attributed Saul's death to exposure.

Christians in Kandhamal have suffered extensive persecution, most notably at Christmas 2007 and between August and October 2008 when Hindu extremists attacked Christians and their property in hundreds of villages. Around 90 Christians were killed, many thousands injured and over 56,000 displaced by the violence. Justice has eluded most of the victims. 

 

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