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Church Welcomes New Anti-Terrorism Moves, Wants ‘Terrorist’ Redefined

12/19/08 NEW DELHI (UCAN) — The Catholic Church in India says the country is moving in “the right direction” by formulating new laws to check terrorism, but it also should define the term “terrorist” more comprehensively.

In a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Dec. 18, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) said the Church congratulates him because the step taken by his government is in “the right direction.”

The day before, the Indian parliament’s lower house, Lok Sabha (people’s council), passed two bills to deal with terrorism. One bill seeks to set up a federal agency, National Investigation Agency, exclusively to fight terrorism. The other, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill 2008, aims to amend provisions of an existing anti-terrorism law so as to allow government departments to deal with cases more easily and efficiently.

The bills need to be passed by the Indian parliament’s upper house, Rajya Sabha, and then signed by the president before they become law.

The bills surfaced in the wake of the Nov. 26-29 attacks on Mumbai, India’s business capital, which killed 173 people, including some foreigners. The heavily armed attackers are believed to have come from Pakistan.

The CBCI letter points put, “The country has witnessed unprecedented attacks on innocent people in recent times,” and it specifies sectarian violence in Gujarat, Karnataka and Orissa states. Those three states witnessed several incidents of Hindu fanatic violence against Christians in the past five years.

Violence that began on Aug. 24 and continued for seven weeks killed at least 60 people, mostly Christians in Orissa, eastern India. In September, at least 24 churches and prayer halls were attacked in Karnataka, southern India.

“Keeping in mind communal violence that takes place in our country through inflammatory speeches and hate campaigns against religious minorities by anti-social elements,” the Church letter says, “it is imperative that the definition of ‘terrorist’ is made more comprehensive.”

Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes of Gandhinagar, the CBCI secretary general, signed the letter with two other bishops and two office-bearing priests.

According to the letter, “terrorist” could be defined as it is in existing legislation, the National Security Act 1986. That act says a terrorist means any person “with intent to over-awe the government,” strike terror “in the people or any section of the people or to alienate any section of the people or to adversely affect the harmony amongst different sections of the people.”

It also identifies as a terrorist anyone using any explosive, inflammable substance, firearms or lethal weapons, or any material or gases to cause death or injury to any person, or destruction of property, or disruption of any supplies or services essential to the life of the community.

Father Babu Joseph, CBCI’s spokesperson, told UCA News that India faces “a serious threat to the secular nature of the country from communal violence,” which is “spreading across the country.” To face this challenge, he said, “it is essential to make the definition of ‘terrorist’ more comprehensive.”

“We have to wait for the next developments and see how the rules are framed to see if the law would become successful” in combating all kinds of terror activities, he added.

He also said a national-level investigative agency for probing terror crimes across the country is “long overdue,” due to inadequate and inefficient state-level infrastructure. The new agency, he noted, would investigate such crimes without interference by the state administration, which “the Church hopes will safeguard the constitutional rights of individuals.”