Court upholds sentence for missioner’s killers

Indian Church welcomes ruling on murder of Australian and his sons

Court upholds sentence for missioner’s killers
Australian missioner Graham Stuart Staines with his family reporters, New Delhi, India

January 21, 2011

The Supreme Court in India today upheld life sentences handed down to the killers of Australian missioner Graham Stuart Staines and his two young sons.

The apex court also upheld the acquittal of 11 other accused.

Dara Singh and Mahendra Hembram were convicted of burning Staines and his sons alive while they were sleeping in a van outside a church in Koenjhar district of Orissa, eastern India, on January 22, 1999.

In 2003, a trial court awarded them death sentence but the Orissa High Court commuted it to life term two years later.

The Supreme Court verdict came after Singh appealed the life sentence.

The Supreme Court, however, observed “there is no justification for people committing conversions on the premise that one religion is better than the other.”

Singh in his defense said the Australian missioner was involved in conversion activities

Welcoming the latest verdict, Father Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said the judgment would act as a deterrent in the future.

But the Divine Word priest said the Church does not accept the court’s opinion on conversion as that would imply Christians are indulging in forcible conversion; an allegation radical Hindu groups often make.

Church has always said forceful conversions are not conversions, he asserted.

“We go by the Constitution of India” that uphold the right to profess, practice and propagate one’s religion, he added.

Meanwhile, A. Harish of the All India Christian Council demanded a reinvestigation of the cases against the acquitted “so that the culprits don’t go scot-free.”

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