BHOPAL, India (CNS) — A priest plans to appeal against his conviction and life prison sentence in connection with a gang rape case in India’s eastern Jharkhand state.
Jesuit Father Alphonse Aind and five others were sentenced to life imprisonment May 17 for raping five women social activists last June 19, reported ucanews.com.
“We fully trust the judiciary,” Father Anand David Xalxo, Ranchi archdiocesan public relations officer, told ucanews.com when stressing the priest’s decision to decision to appeal in the state’s High Court against both the conviction and punishment.
Father Aind was convicted for conspiracy and not reporting the crime of which he allegedly had full knowledge.
But Father Xalxo said the Jesuit, who is now in jail, had been “framed” for political reasons.
“We are with Father Aind and hopeful that he will come out clean from all the charges foisted on him,” the spokesman said.
Jesuit Father Xavier Soreng, a social worker based in the state capital, Ranchi, said Christians, particularly priests and preachers, have been targeted ever since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in the state in 2014.
The case against Father Aind was part of an effort to “tarnish” the image of the church and drive people away from it, Father Soreng said.
Father Aind, who was principal of the Jesuit-run Stockmann Memorial Middle School in remote Kochang village, was taken into custody June 22 after the rape allegation was reported.
Jharkhand High Court released him on bail March 15. He was re-arrested soon after his conviction May 7 and subsequently moved to a jail in Ranchi, Father Soreng said.
Father Aind has consistently denied the charges against him, which included being part of a conspiracy, kidnapping, wrongful confinement and not reporting a crime.
Eight people were accused in the case, and six of them were arrested while one allegedly absconded. Another accused is a minor, and his case has been sent to a juvenile court.
The six convicted were found to have kidnapped and raped five young activists who were staging a play in the school auditorium. Christian leaders say the rape case is part of a pro-Hindu strategy to dissuade people from following Christian churches and groups.
More than 1 million of the 32 million population of Jharkhand state are Christian, almost all of them tribal people.
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