After coming under fire for failing to secure the release of an Indian Catholic priest kidnapped 10 months ago in Yemen by Islamic extremists, government officials in India have defended themselves by saying the priest went to the embattled country "ignoring the central government's orders not to go", even though he'd lived and worked there for 14 years.
According to World Watch Monitor, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been criticized by his political opponents and religious groups for failing to intervene in the case of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, who was abducted in March from a home for the elderly in the port city of Aden run by the Missionaries of Charity.
Responding to such criticism, Modi's Deputy Foreign Minister, M. J. Akbar, said the priest went to Yemen despite the government's pleas.
"Fr Uzhunnalil went to Yemen ignoring the government's instructions," Akbar told media. "We are yet to find out where he is and the efforts to rescue him are continuing. He might not have noticed our efforts to save him and that could have made him criticize the government."
The identity of his captors is not yet known, and no group has yet claimed responsibility for it, according to NC Register. However, ISIS and al-Qaeda both have a strong presence in Yemen, and the Arab country is suffering from internal conflict
Shortly before Christmas, a five-minute video message was published on YouTube showing the priest looking frail and unhealthy and appearing to read from a script.
In the video, the priest said he felt "sad" that nothing has been done by the government and the church to get him released. Father Tom also said suggested that his Indian ethnicity contributed to the lack of assistance, adding that if he were a European priest, he would have been released already.
"I'm sad that this is the situation," he said in the video. "If I were a European priest, I would have been taken more seriously by authorities and people and would have got me released. I am from India and therefore I perhaps am not considered as of much value."
He addressed the Indian government, accusing it of doing little to help him despite his continued pleas.
"Several months have gone by and my captors have made many contacts with the government of India to get me released," he said. "Reports have been in the news that everything is being done to get me released quickly, but in reality, nothing seems to have happened. I'm very sad and depressed. I request also my fellow Christians in India, the bishops and priests, to do their might to help me get released and thus to save my life," he said.
According to World Watch Monitor, the day after the video emerged, the Catholic Bishop of the Arabia region, which includes Yemen, issued a statement, saying: "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."
The statement from Bishop Paul Hinder, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia, added that Bishop Hinder "is in touch with the different channels who are working and are leading the dialogues to secure a safe release. More details cannot be disclosed at this stage."