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Victim Identifies Culprit Still at Large who Started Ongoing Tension in Orissa

You are free to disseminate the following news. We request that you reference ICC (International Christian Concern) and include our web address www.www.persecution.org. Contact Jeremy Sewall, Policy Analyst, 1-800-ICC (422)-5441, jeremy@www.persecution.org

(January 25, 2008) The Washington-DC based human rights group, International Christian Concern (ICC) www.www.persecution.org has learned that an eye-witness account has identified the man who led the first attack that ignited the violence against Christians in Orissa this Christmas. The violence left hundreds of homes and dozens of churches destroyed. Based on our investigation, however, it appears that the perpetrator is still at large.

A local leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, an organization that acts as an umbrella of numerous extremist groups), identified as Bikram Rautho, led the mob that attacked the Church of Our Lady of Lourd (COLL) on December 24 in Bamunigam area of Kandhamal district’s Baliguda Block, said Fr. Rabi Sabhasundar of the COLL.

When ICC asked a police official of the Bamunigam police station on the phone if Rautho had been arrested, he hung up the line without answering the question. The officer refused to identify himself.

The church had decorated a Christmas Crib, as is its custom, with permission from the administrative head and the superintendent of police, but Rautho and a few others went to the police urging them to stop the church from celebrating Christmas in the open, explained Sabhasundar. Frustrated with the refusal of the police to agree to their demands, the RSS and other local Hindu groups launched the attack.

At 10 a.m. on December 24, RSS leader Rautho, other members of his organization, and local Hindu traders forced Christian shopkeepers of the Monday market in Bamunigam to shut down, Sabhasundar said in his testimony to the state governor and chief minister in Bhubaneswar, the capital of Orissa. ICC has the transcript of Fr. Sabhasundar’s testimony.

A sub-inspector of the Bamunigam police station and five village heads of the locality tried to pacify Rautho and his team, but as soon as they left, the mob, carrying sticks and guns, vandalized shops and attacked Christians, added Sabhasundar. Sabhasundar was part of a delegation comprising Dr. John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council (AICC), Dr. Abraham Mathai, vice-chairman of the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission, and Mahesh Bhatt, an eminent film-maker from Mumbai, among others.

Rautho and his team beat Christians with sticks and iron bars in the market. “Then, they came running to the Crib with guns, spears, axes, and many other traditional weapons, and completely destroyed it. They also broke, looted and burned all the shops of Christians. Besides, they poured petrol and burned three motor bikes, a generator set, and a sound system,” narrated the priest.

The mob also shot a 15-year-old boy with a gun, and hit a 12-year-old boy with a sword.

“Seeing this fearful attack, many Christians of the locality ran away fearing for their lives…Instead of celebrating the midnight mass, most of the Christians with their children and babies went to a nearby forest and spent a sleepless night out in the cold.”

After attacking the COLL, the mob unleashed a reign of terror in almost all the villages of Baliguda and other areas. The series of attacks that began on December 24 went on until the night of January 2. Sixteen days later, three towns in Kandhamal remained under curfew.

It is estimated that at least a dozen Christians have been killed, hundreds of houses and dozens of churches burned, and thousands displaced in the violence.

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ICC is a Washington-DC based human rights organization that exists to help persecuted Christians worldwide. ICC provides Awareness, Advocacy, and Assistance to the worldwide persecuted Church. For additional information or for an interview, contact ICC at 800-422-5441.