The special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court in Mumbai denied bail to 83-year-old Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy on 22 March.
Father Swamy, a human rights activist who has spent more than 30 years working among the Adivasis (Scheduled Tribes) to defend their rights, has been incarcerated at the Taloja Central prison since 9 October. He stands accused of terrorism under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), in connection with incitement which resulted in the Bhima Koregaon violence in 2018. However, CSW believes that he has been targeted because of his human rights activism.
Father Cedric Prakash, a Jesuit priest and a human rights activist in India, told CSW: “The sad and painful fact that the bail application has once again been rejected by the special NIA court today speaks volumes of the heartlessness that still abounds in a highly unjust legal system. Father Swamy has worked relentlessly with the constitutional and democratic framework of the country. Besides his age, he also suffers from infirmities like Parkinson’s. That a person of his condition and with absolutely no evidence that he has indulged in any anti-national activity is once again denied bail should make every concerned citizen of the country hang one’s head in shame.”
Father Swamy’s defense counsel, Sharif Sheikh, argued that the NIA had failed to produce any evidence of an act of terrorism committed by the priest. An application for bail was filed on health grounds and based on the fact that the NIA charges against the Jesuit priest were false. In his bail application, the counsel noted that “[Father Swamy] has undergone two hernia operations and is still suffering from abdomen pain. He suffers intense pain due to lumbar spondylosis. In fact, he has been shifted to the prison hospital and is being taken care of by other inmates.”
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “We are frustrated to hear that Father Swamy’s bail application has been denied. From the start, this elderly activist has faced inhumane treatment, and the sad fact is that he joins many other human rights defenders who have also been incarcerated for exercising their fundamental rights and defending those of others. We are deeply concerned by the shrinking space for civil liberties and freedoms in India, which reflects badly on the democratic principles laid down by the nation’s founding fathers. We urge the Indian government to uphold rule of law by dropping all charges against Father Swamy and ending the prosecution of human rights defenders in the country.”
According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), as many as 5,922 people were held under the UAPA between 2016-2019, with only 132 convictions. The draconian law has come under severe criticism from international observers in recent years, as has India’s human rights record since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came into power. In a recent ‘Freedom in the World Report 2021’ by Freedom House, the country was downgraded from ‘free’ to ‘partly free’ for the first time.
Notes to Editors:
1. Scheduled Tribe is the legal classification given to indigenous social groups of people who are the earliest inhabitants of India. The Constitution provides them with educational, cultural, social, economic and political safeguards.
2. Bhima Koregaon, Maharashtra is a village of historical significance in Dalit (Schedule Caste) history, where tens of thousands of Dalits gather yearly to commemorate the Battle of Bhima Koregaon of 1818, which witnessed the Mahar Dalits struggle against the Peshwa upper caste supremacy.