The court of additional district and session judge of Odisha state on 30 Sept sentenced eight people, seven of them Christians to life imprisonment for the murder of a Hindu leader, Swami Laxamananda Saraswati, whose death triggered the communal riots in 2008 Kandhamal, Odisha.
The court in Phulbani found the eight guilty of conspiring and murdering Saraswati and his four disciples. Among the charges for which the eight were convicted was unlawful assembly and rioting. They were sentenced on Oct. 3. A ninth suspect was released for lack of evidence.
However, there is claim from the defence team and church leaders that the seven Christians are innocent and that there is no cogent and sufficient evidence on record so as to hold them guilty under the alleged offences.
The death of Laxamananda Saraswati triggered the violent anti-Christian pogroms of 2008 where more than 600 villages were ransacked, 5,600 houses in 415 villages were looted and set on fire, leaving 54,000 people homeless and 38 people dead. Nearly 300 churches were destroyed, along with a number of convents, schools, hostels and welfare facilities, according to the government figures.
Many of the victims lost identity papers and title deeds to their properties that are vital to exercise their basic constitutional rights.