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AsiaNews – Christians “believe in forgiveness and do not seek revenge” but they want “that justice to reinforce truth, the only means capable of bringing peace for all those involved in missionary activities in Orissa.” This was the reaction of Mgr Thomas Thiruthalil, bishop of the Diocese of Balasore and president of the Orissa Bishops’ Conference, when AsiaNews asked him about the two appeals on the “ Staines case” admitted yesterday by the Supreme Court (this is the case of the Australian missionary burned alive together with his two sons).

The first request was submitted by Ravinder Pal (Dara) Singh, the Hindu fanatic found guilty of homicide and condemned to life in prison: he is asking for a reduction of his sentence. The other request came from the Central Bureau of Investigation which denounced investigation into the case as “inaccurate” and asked for the death penalty after revision of the case.

Singh was condemned to death on 22 September 2003 by the Orissa Provincial Court. The sentence found the man guilty of having led an attack in Keonjhar district on 23 January 1999, which led to the death of Graham Staines and his sons aged seven and nine. The court also imprisoned 12 men defined as his accomplices. The High Court of this eastern state commuted the sentence of Singh to life on 19 May and released 11 of the accomplices.

Mgr Thiruthalil told AsiaNews: “The lower court had verified the evidence against Singh, passing the death sentence. This was very encouraging for those on the side of justice. Christians believe in forgiveness, we are not crying out for revenge, rather, we desire that the truth be brought to light. Only justice which strengthens and proves the truth can bring peace for all those involved in missionary activities in Orissa.”

“Dara Singh has many supporters in the Fundamentalist camp, they are all helping him, but we trust the wisdom of the honourable judges of our court for truth and justice to prevail”.

John Dayal, president of the All India Catholic Union, said the “Staines case was skewed from the very beginning. We are reminded of the comments of Lal Krishan Advani, then Union Home Affairs minister – ‘the boys of Bajrang Dal (the youth wing of the Hindu nationalist movement) are my friends’ – and those of his colleague George Fernandez – “it’s all a foreign conspiracy’ – despite evident proof of the involvement of Singh in the movement.”

Dayal reiterated the denunciation made by the bishop: “During his first imprisonment, Singh was depicted as a hero. He gave long interviews on television, all the national media talked about him as they pleased and now he is a hero for some”.

The activist said the true motivations behind the convictions handed down were contradictory: “The assistance rendered by the local police to the judges was so minimal that the first sentence was full of holes and subsequently easily overruled. The Orissa High Court is noted for the severity with which it treats cases against missionary activity, but its decision in this case was incredible: it reduced the death sentence of Singh to life because he did not act alone but with a group of people, who in turn were released because they had been pushed by others to kill, they did not do so out of their own will!

“I am against the death penalty and I recognise the right of this man to appeal to the Supreme Court, but the judges must acknowledge this homicide as a crime against humanity perpetrated by a person who denies Christians the possibility to pray and Muslims their basic rights.”