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Campaign seeks justice for 7 ‘innocent’ convicts serving life term

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They have been accused of murder of VHP leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati in Kandhamal in 2008

A campaign was launched in Odisha’s Berhampur on Thursday to demand acquittal of seven “innocent persons” who were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in connection with the murder of VHP leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati in Kandhamal district in 2008.

This campaign was formally launched by Green Nobel prize winner social activist Prafulla Samantara in the presence of the seven convicted persons, from Kandhamal, who recently came out of jail after being granted bail by the Supreme Court. Anto Akkara, who has authored books on Kandhamal riots and has launched an online signature campaign for release of the seven convicts languishing in jail since 2008, also joined the campaign along with Narendra Mohanty, State convener of Campaign Against Fabricated Cases (CAFC), Odisha.

“This campaign will approach general public in different parts of the country through documentaries and evidence that prove these seven ‘innocents’ were wrongly convicted and punished. People will be motivated to support the demand for their acquittal,” said Mr. Samantara. “We are also demanding reinvestigation into the case so that the real murderers can be brought to fore,” he added.

The activists involved in this campaign claimed that during the four-year-long trial of the seven accused in the fast-track court, hardly any worthwhile evidence could be brought up by the prosecution. Yet they were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2013, they added. These seven convits are Bhaskar Sunamajhi, Munda Badamajhi, Garnath Chalanseth, Bijay Sanaseth, Duryodhan Sunamajhi, Sanatan Badamajhi, Buddhadeb Nayak.

“According to my documented investigation, all these seven persons were not present near the place of murder on that day. They were at least 50 km away. Munda is speech-impaired and Duryodhan was on a train to Kerala in search of work when the VHP leader was murdered,” said Mr. Akkara. All of the convicts, except one, are poor and illiterate.

After the Odisha High Court rejected their bail applications for the second time in December 2018, they moved the Supreme Court. Garnath was released on bail in May and Bijay was granted bail in July. The remaining five came out on bail on November 26.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 1:37:26 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/campaign-seeks-justice-for-7-innocent-convicts/article30291298.ece

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