Kerala nun rape case: SOS urges CM to protect nuns from transfer

The collective urged the state government to “initiate immediate action” to stall the orders asking the nuns to move out of their present convent, “where the government is giving them protection till the trial is completed”.

kerala nun rape case
Thiruvananthapuram: A collective of eight independent church organisations has asked Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to intervene and stall the transfer orders issued to five nuns who had protested against rape-accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal.
“The rape survivor and the other five nuns, Sr. Anupama, Sr. Josephine, Sr. Alphy, Sr. Ancitta and Sr. Neena Rose who supported her in the case against Franco Mulakkal are facing an imminent threat of being separated and sent away from Kerala by their congregation, the Missionaries of Jesus. Ever since they participated in the month-long agitation held at Vanchi square, they were individually targeted and harassed within the convent by the church authorities,” Save Our Sisters (SOS) wrote in the letter.

The collective urged the state government to “initiate immediate action” to stall the orders asking the nuns to move out of their present convent, “where the government is giving them protection till the trial is completed”.
Earlier this month, the Catholic Church ordered four nuns – Alphy Pallasseril, Anupama Kelamangalathuveliyil, Josephine Villoonnickal and Ancitta Urumbil – to leave the Kuravilangad convent and return to the convents that had been assigned to them between March and May. The following week, the fifth nun – Neena Rose Edathil – was also asked to report to the Missionaries of Jesus congregation’s Jalandhar convent.
Mulakkal has been accused of raping a nun belonging to the order of Missionaries of Jesus several times between 2014 and 2016. He spent three weeks at Pala jail before he got bail.
SOS was concerned about the nuns safety and the future of the case. “Now that the case is being actively pursued by the state, the Congregation has strengthened its pressure tactics against the nuns in an obvious attempt to weaken the case by influencing and interfering in their evidence. The four nuns who are supporting the rape survivor, who are also key witnesses in the case against Franco Mulakkal, have been asked to join different convents in Punjab, Jharkhand, Bihar and Kannur. Sr. Neena Rose is being asked by the church to appear before the authorities in Jalandhar by Jan 26, where Franco Mulakkal is at present housed, and explain her actions. All five of them are key witnesses in the case. This act of commanding the nun for personal appearance amounts to a direct intervention of church authorities in weakening their case, and throttling their voice from the public sphere,” they wrote.
SOS also spoke about how another nun was obstructing justice and harassing the protesting sisters. “It is apparent that the Congregation is ensuring that the key witnesses are moved out of the Kerala police jurisdiction, but at the same time accessible to Franco Mulakkal and his supporters. It needs to be emphasized here that Sr. Regina, the Mother Superior, who has directed the sister for a personal appearance at Jalandhar is a strong supporter of Bishop Franco and had voluntarily deposed before the police in his defence. Besides, she had also come out explicitly against the nuns both in print and visual media. It is also evident that Sr. Regina denied opportunity to Sr. Neena Rose to appear for the final examination of her Post Graduate course. Apart from this, Sr. Anupama was compelled by Franco Mulakkal to write an apology in November 2017, and Sr. Regina was instrumental in making this happen. It needs to be noted with a high amount of suspicion that since Sr. Regina is directly involved in commanding a witness to go to Jalandhar, where Franco Mulakkal reportedly resides, the highest offices of power in the church is being misused for the illegal protection of Franco Mulakkal,” they wrote.
“In this context, it is to be noted that one of the main witnesses, in this case, Fr. Kuriakose Kattuthara died under suspicious circumstances in Jalandhar after Franco Mulakkal was released on bail. Fr. Kattuthara’s relatives have raised this issue and they suspect a well-planned murder. We strongly believe that by enforcing the transfer order issued to the nuns supporting the survivor/witnesses, the congregation of Missionaries of Jesus is, in fact, helping the accused Franco Mulakkal to come in contact with the witnesses in a bid to influence their evidence. In effect, the congregation authorities are liable for criminal obstruction of justice. Also, the effort to scatter the nuns should also be read as an attempt to destabilise the solidarity that they have built within the church and among the public around this issue,” they added.
Speaking about the Witness Protection Scheme, they added that the congregation was impinging upon the nuns rights. “Further, in the Witness Protection Scheme 2018 approved by the Supreme Court of India, the section “Types of Protection Measures” envisages that the authorities should ensure that “witness and accused do not come face to face during investigation or trial”. The principle underlying the Witness Protection Scheme is to see that the accused and his supporters never threaten or intimidate the witness or endanger their lives or use any kind of force or influence over them. Hence, the congregation of Missionaries of Jesus is bound to extend protection and support to the rape survivor and the nuns (witnesses) who rallied around her. Moreover, the state is also bound to ensure their safety and ensure safeguards guaranteed under law,” they said.
They said, “It is now a well-known fact that the accused Franco Malakal enjoys immense clout among his congregation members, priests, nuns and laity alike, inside and outside Kerala. We strongly fear that any move to get the nuns, who are key witnesses in the case, out of their convent where police protection is already ensured will be disastrous and is likely to annul their evidence and may even put their lives at risk. Under these circumstances, we urge the government to ensure that their lives and safety are not endangered by enforcing the transfer order.”



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