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India Sentences Man to Death for Slaying

September 22, 2003

BHUBANESWAR, India (AP) _ An Indian court sentenced one man to death and 12 others to life in prison Monday for killing an Australian Christian missionary and his two young sons in a mob attack.

Graham Staines and his sons Philip, 10, and Timothy, 8, were killed in January 1999 when a Hindu mob burned their jeep while they slept outside a church in Manoharpur, a tribal village in eastern Orissa state.

The chief defendant in the case, Dara Singh, was sentenced to death.

The murder of Staines and his sons was one of the worst hate crimes against Christians in recent years in India, where more than 80 percent of the 1 billion-plus population are Hindus. Christians make up about 2 percent of the population.

One of the 12 others given life sentences reportedly said earlier that the killers were provoked by the ``corruption of tribal culture″ by the missionaries, who allegedly fed villagers beef and gave women brassieres and sanitary napkins. Hindus worship the cow and forbid the eating of beef.

``I did this because of the bitter relations with the Christians,″ Mahendra Hembram was quoted as saying by The Hindustan Times on Sunday in a letter to his sister-in-law.

``After hearing so many things about the Christians, we decided to kill the Christians,″ he said in the letter, written while he was on the run before being arrested.

Christian missionaries often are heralded for helping India’s poor by setting up educational and health facilities in remote areas. However, they are also accused of using force, money and superstition to convert poor and illiterate villagers to their faith.

The killings came at a time when Hindu nationalist groups were being blamed for a series of attacks on Christians and church property. The Home Ministry said a large number of those cases were related to land and property disputes, not religion.

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