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Stan Swamy: Centre cites 'due process' of law for detention

The comments, the government’s first reaction to the death of the human rights activist, came in the aftermath of growing criticism from global organisations
Father Stan Swamy
Father Stan Swamy
File picture

Anita Joshua   |   New Delhi   |   Published 07.07.21, 01:37 AM

The external affairs ministry on Tuesday said the arrest and detention of Father Stan Swamy had been made by following the “due process” of law and that India remained committed to the protection of the human rights of all its citizens.

The comments, the government’s first reaction to the death of the 84-year-old ailing human rights activist and Jesuit priest in a Mumbai hospital on Monday while waiting for bail after eight months of incarceration, came in the aftermath of growing criticism from global organisations.

The apex UN human rights agency said on Tuesday that it was “deeply saddened and disturbed” by the death of Fr Stan during his pre-trial detention and urged India and other countries to release individuals detained “without a sufficient legal basis”, including dissenters.

Without referring to any particular statement that has come from overseas on Fr Stan, external affairs ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said: “Father Stan Swamy was arrested and detained by the National Investigation Agency following 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.”

Adding that Fr Stan had been receiving treatment at a private hospital since May 28 according to Bombay High Court’s instructions, the official statement said: “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 ministry issued the statement after the United Nations Human Rights office had tweeted: “#India: We are saddened & disturbed by the death of 84-year-old human rights defender Father #StanSwamy, after prolonged pre-trial detention. With Covid-19, it is even more urgent that States release every person detained without sufficient legal basis.”

During a media briefing in Geneva, Liz Throssel, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, provided an insight into how the world views the case.

“Fr 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 peoples and other marginalised groups,” she said.

“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 Bombay High Court was considering an appeal against the rejection of his bail application,” Throssell added.

She also said in a statement: “We are deeply saddened and disturbed by the death of 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy, a human rights defender and Jesuit priest, in Mumbai yesterday, following his arrest in October 2020 under India’s Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.”

“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. This would be in line with the Indian judiciary’s calls to decongest the prisons,” the statement added.

“We stress, once again, the High Commissioner’s (for Human Rights) 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,” it said.

Throssell’s remarks and similar statements on Monday from the European Union’s Special Representative for Human Rights and the Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom make it clear that India’s frequent iterations of commitment to democracy and human rights are being measured against actions on the ground.

“UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 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,” Throssell said.

Fr Stan was among 16 people arrested in the Elgaar Parishad case, an investigation into alleged Maoist links to an Ambedkarite event on December 31, 2017, that was followed by caste clashes the next day that claimed one life.“The High Commissioner has also raised concerns over the use of the UAPA in relation to human rights defenders,” Throssell said.

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