Orissa witnesses fall silent amid threats
BHUBANESWAR, India (UCAN): Christian lawyers and social workers say that witnesses of violence in Orissa are becoming uncooperative in court following threats to their lives.
Fear and uncertainty have gripped many people as gunmen comb villages for people named as witnesses in cases related to last year’s anti-Christian violence in the eastern Indian state, a Church official said.
In June, a fast-track court began hearing hundreds of cases against radical Hindus, who had orchestrated a four month-long campaign of violence against Christians.
The unrest began on Aug. 24, 2008, a day after Maoists gunned down a Hindu religious leader in Orissa’s Kandhamal district. Hindu radicals blamed Christians for the murder and destroyed houses, churches and convents in retaliation.
About 90 people died and about 50,000 were displaced, mostly Christians, according to Church leaders.
“Three gunmen in the Sarangarh area are going around villages and threatening to kill people if they go to court and testify” against Hindu radicals, said M. Nayak, a social worker in the area.
He said people have alerted top district officials and the police about the threats. They hope the police can put a stop to this, he added.
Nayak also said he recognized the three gunmen. They led “a hand-to-mouth existence,” but now “they wield revolvers and are moving around in motor vehicles, threatening people,” he said.
Some witnesses who were threatened, and who spoke to UCA News, requested that their experiences not be published for fear their lives might be further endangered.
R. Pradhan, a lawyer associated with the court cases, said the witnesses are increasingly becoming more uncooperative as a result of the threats.
For example, on July 7, during court proceedings in a murder case, the elder brother of a victim of violence suddenly refused to cooperate, “telling the court he didn’t know anything about the case.”
The lawyer said that just the previous day the same witness had promised to tell the truth to help punish his brother’s killers.
“From reliable sources we know that his life was in danger if he had told the truth. Anyway, we are not disheartened because the victim’s widow and son are determined to testify.”
“Although, their lives are in danger, God will protect them,” he said.
However, Pradhan fears the victims may not get justice if such threats continue. “We keep getting reports of threats to witnesses from various parts of the district. We are keeping the authorities informed regarding these incidents,” he said.