A Jesuit priest 84-year-old defender of the rights of Indian tribal communities e detained without trial for nine months according to the anti-terrorism laws in force in India, died today before he could attend the parole hearing. The news was confirmed by the local authorities and relaunched by the Conference of Jesuits of South Asia.
Father Stan Swamy, a long-time Parkinson’s sufferer, had launched a campaign in 2018 in favor of the rights of marginalized tribal communities and for this reason was arrested last year on charges of inciting interchastal violence. To the Indian religious bail was denied despite suffering from various medical conditions. Admitted to hospital in May after contracting Covid-19, the Jesuit priest suffered a cardiac arrest over the weekend.
The religious passed away in the early hours of today at the Holy Family Hospital of Mumbai, where he had been transferred at the end of May from the prison where he was imprisoned. According to Religious Information Service, worsening lung infection and cardiac arrest took him away.
After the priest’s arrest, which took place on October 9, 2020, several academics, lawyers, scholars and writers had undertaken to provide the Jesuit father at least one straw with which to drink since, due to his health conditions, he was not even able to hold a glass.
An affection for the priest that did not stop with his death. “The Society of Jesus is now committed to carrying on the legacy of Father Stan in his mission of justice and reconciliation,” said Father Jerome Stanislaus D’Souza, in charge of the Jesuits of theIndia.
Together with 15 other activists, the priest had been jailed on charges of personal ties to extremist groups Maoists is naxalites. The case had raised protests from various organizations, including the Indian National Commission for Human Rights (Nhrc), intervened to ask for “adequate medical care” and a review of the complaints against the 16 activists who worked to defend young people belonging to the minority Adivasi (the tribal communities) is Dalits (the so-called untouchables), still discriminated against by the Indian authorities.
The news from #India today is devastating. Human Rights Defender & Jesuit priest Fr Stan Swamy has died in custody, nine months after his arrest on false charges of terrorism. Jailing HRDs is inexcusable. He explains his work here: https://t.co/kKPhM6IaHu pic.twitter.com/YoEpst0ol2
– Mary Lawlor UN Special Rapporteur HRDs (@MaryLawlorhrds) July 5, 2021
Even Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur of the United Nations for the defense of human rights, it intervened on the disappearance of the Indian Jesuit, who died as a prisoner “nine months after his arrest on false accusations of terrorism”. “Jailing human rights defenders (human rights defenders) is unforgivable,” he wrote Lawlor up Twitter. Also Eamon Gilmore, special representative ofEuropean Union for human rights, he denounced the imprisonment of his father Swamy as based on “unfounded allegations”.
The death of the cleric will not put an end to the controversy over the case. “Both the state and the central government must be blamed for his death through the respective agencies that handled the case”, he denounced to Afp the attorney of the Indian priest, Mihir Desai, according to which the Jesuit was not in good health already at the time of his arrest.
Shocked to learn about the demise of Father Stan Swamy. He dedicated his life working for tribal rights. I had strongly opposed his arrest & incarceration. The Union Govt should be answerable for absolute apathy & non provision of timely medical services, leading to his death.
– Hemant Soren (@HemantSorenJMM) July 5, 2021
An opinion shared also among the Indian authorities, at least the local ones. Hemant Soren, head of the state government of Jharkhand where is it Swamy he worked closely with tribal communities, and has always said he was “strongly opposed to his arrest and incarceration”. The federal government, he wrote Soren up Twitter, “Should be held responsible for the absolute apathy and failure to provide timely medical services, which led to the death” of the cleric.
Father Swami was detained under theUnlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which effectively allows the Indian authorities to jail anyone without trial and for an indefinite period. According to critics, the government headed by the prime minister Narendra Modi has resorted toUnlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) to have activists, journalists, students and other opponents arrested in an attempt to silence internal dissent.
In February, federal authorities in New Delhi admitted that between 2016 and 2019 nearly 6,000 people had been arrested under this law and that 132 had been sentenced in various capacities.