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Destruction of an Orissa Church in India

4/24/07 India (All India Christian Council) – The United Nations’ Human Rights High Commissioner has been urged to intervene and save a Christian Church from destruction and initiate measures against the denial of religious practice at Guntaput village in Orissa.

The Forum for Fact-finding Documentation and Advocacy (FFDA) has sought immediate intervention of Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief regarding the situation at Guntaput, where the Christian community is unable to carry out their religious practices due to the destruction of the building they used for worship.

FFDA conducted a fact-finding mission in the area between 4 and 5 April 2007.This team led by FFDA’s Director Subash Mohapatra, held several interviews with public authorities, independent journalists, villagers and members of both the communities.

The following are the conclusion of the FFDA’s findings: On 30 March 2007 the building used by the Christian Community was torched by unidentified people. The building in question was constructed by a German missionary, Rudolph Tauscher, in the mid fifties. The land where it was located was bought at that time from two villagers. Christian missionaries for religious teaching also used the building.

The Christian community claim that outsiders have, since February 2006, engaged in a series of actions against their place of prayer. On 28 February 2006 the interior of the Church was burnt down by unidentified miscreants. On 21 March 2007 the cross on the top of Church was demolished. On 30 March 2007 both the church and the Pastor’s house were destroyed.

The following information was also obtained: After the initial burning of the Church, it was locked by the police following a court decision under disputed land (144 Indian Criminal Penal Code), followed by a ban on it issued by the court (145 Indian Criminal Penal Code) and unavailable ever since.

The Court designated Sudarsan Gaud as an independent commission to inspect the place, and report whether or not it was a church. Two advocates from each side accompanied him during his visit.

FFDA interviewed Sudarsan Gaud. The independent commission’s report concluded that the building was used for religious purposes by Christians. After the visit of the Commission, unidentified miscreants destroyed the building and the pastor’s house, threatening him and his family.

The police, under false pretences, organized a peace committee between the villagers and the Christian community in a neighbouring village, where they arrested nine members of the Hindu community. The villagers were outraged at this and protested violently at the police station.

After observing all these facts, hearing several testimonies, and with some evidence it was possible to obtain, it is our conviction that the building in question was used by the Christian Community as a place of worship. The destruction of such a building is a serious violation on the Christian minority’s right to religious practice.

There is ongoing tension at Guntaput village among the police, the Christian community and the villagers. Roads that provide access to the village have been blocked, and a platoon has been deployed in the area.

Forum for Fact-finding Documentation and Advocacy, requests the intervention of the UN body in this situation, by ensuring that the Indian Government complies both with the international provisions defending the right to freedom of religion, and with its own Constitution which also upholds this right as well as any other measures deemed fit.