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JUBA CITY - 23 Mar 2024

Supreme Court acquits Rumbek priest of attempted murder of Bishop Carlassare

The then Bishop-elect Fr. Christian Carlassare received treatment at Nairobi Hospital after being shot in both legs in Rumbek. (File photo)
The then Bishop-elect Fr. Christian Carlassare received treatment at Nairobi Hospital after being shot in both legs in Rumbek. (File photo)

South Sudan’s Supreme Court earlier in the week acquitted Fr. John Mathiang Machol, a catholic priest convicted and sentenced to 14 fourteen years in prison for orchestrating the 2020 shooting of the then Bishop-elect of Rumbek Catholic Diocese, Father Christian Carlassare.

The churchman was attacked by armed men at his residence in Rumbek, Lakes State, in April 2021 and shot and wounded in both legs. While in hospital in Nairobi, he told Radio Tamazuj that he forgave the people who attempted to kill him but was not deterred and would go ahead to be ordained Bishop and serve the people of Rumbek Diocese. He was then consecrated Bishop in March 2022.

Fr. Mathiang, who was one of the key suspects involved in the plans to shoot the Bishop-elect denied the claims at the time, saying he was “not party” to the plot.

Addressing reporters at the Supreme Court premises on Monday, Advocate Dr. Geri Raimondo Legge, the lead defense lawyer for Fr. Mathiang, said his client was accused of attempting to kill the Bishop of Rumbek two years ago but that they had been appealing the court ruling.

“He was sentenced here in Juba by the High Court then later on we appealed to the Court of Appeal of Greater Equatoria but unfortunately the Honorable Court of Appeal confirmed the conviction and sentence of 14 years” Dr. Legge explained. “In South Sudan, any person has the right to appeal up to the Supreme Court which is the highest and the last resort for any aggrieved person. We appealed to the Supreme Court here in Juba and at last, on 18 March 2024, our father, Fr. John Mathiang Machol was acquitted and he is now at home.”

For his part, Advocate Malith Jokthiang Wundit, a member of the priest’s defense team, expressed gratitude for the acquittal of their client, stressing that a piece of co-accused evidence is not independent evidence that can be used to convict an accused person.

“Fr. John was convicted on the allegation and confession of one of the accused persons and there were no independent witnesses, there was no credible evidence connecting him to the crime. Fr. John was also a victim because he was in the same compound where the shooting took place,” he explicated, adding: “We argued that you cannot be expected to get out during a shootout, and yet he is not a policeman, but the court viewed that since he was there and he did not take any action he could be one of the accused persons and that is why he was convicted. However, lastly, he has been acquitted.”

Jokthiang added: “We want to tell the public that Fr. John is free and if he wishes to go back to his work, he can do so as a normal priest and I want to thank the defense team.”

Meanwhile, Fr. Mathiang said he is grateful to be free, thanked the Supreme Court, and appreciated everyone who stood by him.

“To the defense teams who have been journeying with me on this road up to this last moment, I say thank you, and may the good Lord reward you and keep you healthy to do good things like the way you have handled my case. To the people that have been with me all along in the prison, especially the Director of Juba National Prison and his staff, I am grateful for their care and protection for the period that I stayed there,” he stated. “I thank all those who have been helping me, who gave me support, material goods, the food, who visited me and gave me medicine during my detention. To my family members, especially my brother Daniel Mabor who has shown the true faith of a brother to journey with me up to this moment that we have arrived, I am grateful for everything.”

The priest maintained his innocence and insisted he was wrongly convicted, noting that he supports the Bishop of Rumbek.

“For those who have been misunderstanding me and have stood on the mountain of revenge, I have good news for you; I am innocent. Take courage and let us join hands at the foot of the cross where Jesus took up all our sins upon himself and reconciled us with God and one another. I am ready to receive everybody and I have no grudges against any person,” he promised.  “To my Bishop, the Bishop Carlassare, you know how much I received you in Rumbek and how I handled your announcement as my Bishop. I have nothing against you and I am not opposing your appointment.”

Fr. Mathiang revealed that he is ready to go back to the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek to continue with his priestly duties.

“I am ready to go back to the Diocese of Rumbek so that I continue with my service. I can say I enjoyed my stay in the prison and the company of the inmates who saw me as their brother. I did not look at my stay in prison as a punishment but considered it a call of God to witness other forms of life. I had to strengthen the faith of my brothers who are facing similar situations or even worse than what I faced,” Fr. Mathiang said. “For those who convicted me, I have nothing to say against them because I am not the first person to be wrongly imprisoned.  The history of mankind has many such incidents and Jesus himself was accused falsely and convicted on the demand of what they call public opinion.”