New Delhi : The government on Tuesday strongly rebutted the allegation leveled by international human rights groups that Father Stan Swamy, who passed away on Monday, was detained illegally.
A Jesuit priest and an activist, Stan Swamy passed away in Mumbai on Wednesday at the age of 84. He was arrested in October 2020 for his alleged involvement in the 2018 Bhima Koregaon violence and for his alleged links with the banned terror group Communist Party of India (Maoist), under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
The United Nations Human Rights on Tuesday issued a statement on his death and detention, criticising India. The international body tweeted, “We are saddened and disturbed by the death of 84-year-old human rights defender Father Stan Swamy, after prolonged pre-trial detention. With Covid-19, it is even more urgent that states release every person detained without sufficient legal basis.”
In a statement issued by the government, Arindam Bagchi, the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, said that Stan Swamy was arrested and detained by the National Investigation Agency following the due process under law. Because of the specific nature of the charges against him, his bail applications were rejected by the courts.
“Authorities in India act against violations of law and not against legitimate exercise of rights. All such actions are strictly in accordance with the law,” the statement said.
Explaining the details of the case, the government said that in view of Stan Swamy’s ailing health, the Bombay High Court had allowed his medical treatment at a private hospital where he was receiving all possible treatment and was being closely monitored by the courts. He passed away following medical complications, the government said.
The spokesperson said that India’s democratic and constitutional polity is complemented by an independent judiciary, a range of national and state-level human rights commissions that monitor violations, a free media and a vibrant and vocal civil society. India remains committed to promotion and protection of human rights of all its citizens, the statement said.
In its statement, the UN Human Rights’ office of the high commissioner had said that Father Stan had been held in pre-trial detention without bail since his arrest, charged with terrorism-related offences in relation to demonstrations that date back to 2018.
He was a long-standing activist, particularly on the rights of indigenous people and other marginalised groups. While in Mumbai’s Taloja Central Jail, his health deteriorated and he reportedly contracted Covid-19. His repeated applications for bail were rejected. He died as the Bombay High Court was considering an appeal against the rejection of his bail application.
“High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet and the UN’s independent experts have repeatedly raised the cases of Father Stan and 15 other human rights defenders associated with the same events with the Government of India over the past three years and urged their release from pre-trial detention. The High Commissioner has also raised concerns over the use of the UAPA in relation to human rights defenders, a law Father Stan was challenging before the Indian courts days before he died,” the UN statement said.
In light of the continued, severe impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is even more urgent that states, including India, release every person detained without a sufficient legal basis, including those detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views, it said, adding that this would be in line with the Indian judiciary’s calls to decongest the prisons.
“We stress, once again, the High Commissioner’s call on the Government of India to ensure that no one is detained for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association,” Bachelet said in her statement.