10 January 2017
Kidnapped priest ignored orders not to go to Yemen, says Indian Government
A YouTube video shows Fr Uzhunnalil imploring the Indian Government and Catholic Church to secure his release
The Indian Catholic priest kidnapped by Islamic militants ignored government advice not to go to Yemen, a senior member of India’s Government has said.
Father Uzhunnalil, who is a member of the Salesian Order, was abducted during an attack on a care home run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden. Masked gunmen murdered 16 people, including four nuns, in the attack in March last year.
India's deputy foreign minister, M.J Akbar, told the Times of India that Fr Uzhunnalil, an Indian citizen who had lived and worked in Yemen for 14 years, returned to the country after "ignoring the central Government's orders not to go”, reports World Watch Monitor.
Mr Akbar’s comments followed the release of a YouTube video on 24 December showing Fr Uzhunnalil pleading with the Indian government and the Catholic Church to do more to secure his release.
“If I were a European priest, I would have been taken more seriously. I am from India. I am perhaps not considered as of much value," Fr Uzhunnalil says in the video, which was posted on Facebook.
“Dear Pope Francis, dear Holy Father, as a father please take care of my life. I am very much depressed. My health is deteriorating,” Fr Uzhunnalil says, apparently reading from a script.”
The Vicariate of Southern Arabia, which includes Yemen, released a statement in response to the video defending the role of the church and urging continued prayers for the priest’s release.
"Since the day of the abduction of Fr Tom, the Church has made countless appeals from the highest levels to secure his release as well as made concrete efforts by way of working in close collaboration with both international and local diplomatic channels," read the statement.
“We request the faithful not to be drawn into a cycle of disturbance and spreading unconfirmed reports on social media but to continue their prayers for Fr. Tom as the channels try to secure his release.”
The statement also makes reference to Pope Francis’ specific appeal for the release of the priest, made in April last year.
In the video, Fr Uzhunnalil claimed his captors have made several attempts to contact the Government of India, including the President and Prime Minister.
“I am very sad that nothing has been done seriously,” he said.
He said reports claim everyone is trying to negotiate his release, “but in reality, nothing has been done.”
After the video appeal made national news headlines, India's foreign minister Sushma Swaraj reiterated that the Government was doing its best to secure the priest’s release.
"I have seen the video from Father Tom. He is an Indian citizen and the life of every Indian is most precious, ” she tweeted on 27 December.
In the priest’s home state of Kerala, the ruling Communist party pledged that its members would send the Indian Prime Minister, Narendha Modi, 50,000 postcards demanding the Government secure his release, reports World Watch Monitor.
Meanwhile India’s opposition Congress party launched a petition on New Year’s Day, also calling for the Government to intervene.
British cross bench peer, Lord Hylton, has urged the Indian High Commissioner, Ranjan Mathai, to ask the Government to do all it can to facilitate Fr Uzhunnalil’s release, in a letter dated 9 January.
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