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ICC Note:

Eight months after being abducted by Taliban militants in Herat, Afghanistan, Fr. Alexis Prem Kumar has been released and returned home to India. The Indian government, including India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, worked hard over the past eight months and were finally able to secure the safe return of Fr. Alexis. Fr. Alexis will now return to India to be with his family. This comes only a week after Prime Minister Modi spoke out against religious intolerance in India. Is the Prime Minister turning over a new leaf? 

2/23/2015 India (Times of India) – Less than a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out to Christians and resolved to protect them from groups inciting hatred, his government pulled off a diplomatic coup by securing the release of a senior Jesuit priest abducted by the Taliban in Herat, Afghanistan, last year.

Father Alexis Prem Kumar, who hails from Tamil Nadu’s Sivaganga district, had served as country director of international NGO Jesuit Refugee Service in Afghanistan for four years before he was abducted on June 2, 2014.

Announcing the release, Modi tweeted, “Delighted at securing the release of Indian Jesuit priest Father Alexis Prem Kumar from captivity in Afghanistan. Have spoken to Father Alexis Prem Kumar. Informed happy family of Father Alexis Prem Kumar of his safe return after 8 months in captivity.”

The priest has returned to India and will be reunited with his family, which had approached the Modi government last year to secure his release. Father Alexis has thanked the Modi government for negotiating his freedom, according to a PTI report.

Father Alexis’s release is a culmination of the Centre’s long-drawn diplomatic efforts, personally supervised by national security adviser Ajit Kumar Doval, to carry out Modi’s written assurance to AIADMK chief J Jayalalitha and MDMK leader Vaiko that his government would spare no effort to have him freed by constantly engaging Afghanistan on that score.

Both Jayalalitha and Vaiko had separately sought the PM’s “personal intervention to secure the safe and early release” of Father Alexis. The latter’s family and friends also met foreign Sushma Swaraj and Doval on July 24 and 25 last year, who assured them the government was pursuing his case with the Afghan government and would keep them updated on the status of negotiations as well as his safety.

Father Alexis, 47, had found mention in the Vatican Congregation’s report on church workers killed and targeted during 2014. Fides, the congregation’s news agency, said the fate of five abducted priests belonging to religious orders, including Indian Jesuit Father Alexis, was “unknown”.

Incidentally, the Modi government negotiated the release of Father Alexis notwithstanding the fact that he had gone to Afghanistan on his own to pursue philanthropic causes. The government was pursuing his case since the day he was abducted and was hopeful of reuniting him with his family.

Only last week, Modi had, while addressing a celebration function of elevation to sainthood of Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Mother Euphrasia, sought to allay the concerns of the Christian community over the recent attacks on churches and schools in the Capital. “My government will not allow any religious group belonging to the majority or minority to incite hatred against any group,” he had said in a comment welcomed by the community leaders.

The Modi government has been negotiating with foreign governments to safeguard Indian citizens working abroad. In early July 2014, 46 Indian nurses taken captive by the ISIS in Iraq were freed after sustained diplomatic efforts.

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