Police Arrest Fishermen, Won't Charge the Tribe That Killed American Evangelist

Police Arrest Fishermen, Won't Charge the Tribe That Killed American Evangelist
American evangelist John Allen Chau, right, stands for a photograph with Casey Prince in Cape Town, South Africa, days before he left for in a remote Indian island of North Sentinel Island, where he was killed. (AP Photo/Sarah Prince)

On Saturday, Indian police turned back from an attempt to retrieve the body of John Allan Chau, an American evangelical Christian who died attempting to preach the gospel to one of the last still isolated tribes. While the case is being investigated as a murder, police will not charge the tribesmen who killed Chau, but they did arrest the fishermen who helped him get to the island.

The police team took a boat just off the North Sentinel island, attempting to find and retrieve Chau’s body. They spotted men from the Sentinelese tribe the evangelist attempted to contact, but eventually turned back, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.

“They started at us and we were looking at them,” regional police chief Dependra Pathak told AFP. The police, about 1,300 feet away, used binoculars to scope out the island, and saw tribesmen staring at them. According to AFP, the boat withdrew to avoid any chance of a confrontation.

“The police are taking painstaking efforts to avoid any disruption to the Sentinelese — a pre-neolithic tribe whose island is off-limits to outsiders — as they seek Chau’s body,” AFP reported.

Tribesmen shot Chau with arrows on November 17, when he attempted to preach the gospel to them. AFP phrased it this way: “he shouted Christian phrases at them.” What did he say? “Hello, my name is John. I love you and Jesus loves you.”

This incident “has cast a new spotlight on efforts to protect one of the world’s last ‘uncontested’ tribes whose language and customs remain a mystery to outsiders,” AFP reported. Only later in the article did AFP report that Chau’s death is a murder case, but that “no charges will be made against the protected tribe.”

Instead, “seven people, including six fishermen who were involved in ferrying Chau to North Sentinel, have been arrested.”

So, an American Christian missionary wants to reach an uncontacted tribe, convinces fishermen to take him there, gets killed by tribesmen, and it’s the fishermen who get arrested? Police are “taking painstaking efforts” indeed.

Pathak, the police chief, referred to a 2006 case in which two fishermen strayed onto the island and were murdered by the tribesmen. After the tribesmen killed them, they hooked their bodies on bamboo stakes facing out to sea.

“It was a kind of scarecrow,” Pathak told AFP. “We are studying the 2006 case. We are asking anthropologists what they do when they kill an outsider. We are trying to understand the group psychology.”

“You guys might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worth it to declare Jesus to these people,” Chau wrote, according to The Wall Street Journal. “Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed—rather please live your lives in obedience to whatever He has called you to and I’ll see you again.”

Are the psychologists — and the police who take their advice — turning this tribe into a science experiment? Is it more important to keep them isolated, even if they would gladly embrace modern prosperity if they knew about it? Is it more important to keep them isolated, even though that involves sacrificing justice for the Indian fishermen and the American evangelist murdered by these tribesmen?

Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.