Updated: March 18, 2021 08:51 AM GMT
A campaign picture seeking the release of Jesuit Father Stan Swamy, who was arrested and jailed on Oct. 9. He remains in jail as a court continues to postpone a verdict on his bail application. (Photo: Facebook)
An elderly Indian Jesuit arrested more than five months ago on charges of sedition remains in jail as a special court postponed its verdict on his bail application for the third time.
The verdict on the bail application of 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy was postponed again on March 16 by the special court of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) based in western India's Mumbai city.
“The frequent postponements have disappointed us,” said Father A. Santhanam, a Jesuit lawyer based in Tamil Nadu state who is closely following the case.
The court completed hearings on the application on Feb. 12 but scheduled the order for Feb. 16 and then moved it to March 2. It was postponed again to March 16 but now stands moved to March 22.
The court seems to be using different excuses to delay pronouncement, Father Santhanam said.
“We are hopeful that the court will stick with the March 22 date and release its order,” the priest said.
He said they can “take the next legal steps only after the court’s order … even if it is a negative order.”
The priest noted that Father Swamy was arrested on Oct. 8 last year and was charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), making it almost impossible to gain bail.
Father Swamy is among 16 people arrested and jailed after being linked to a riot in Bhima Koregaon village in Maharashtra state on Jan. 1, 2018, which killed a 16-year-old boy and injured some 20 people.
The police claim those arrested associated with a banned Maoist group to organize the violence and conspired to bring together Dalit and Muslim forces to thwart the federal government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Father Swamy's colleagues say he was based in Jharkhand state and has not visited Maharshara for decades. However, he was among leaders who campaigned against two new legal amendments to protect tribal people's land rights.
Massive demonstrations in 2019 forced the Jharkhand government, at the time led by Modi’s pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to withdraw the amendments.
Since his arrest on Oct. 8 from his residence in Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand state, Father Swamy has been detained in a jail in Mumbai.
Media reports show that all the arrested are human rights activists who at some point opposed the policies and programs of BJP-led governments in the states or in New Delhi.
Church groups continue demonstrations and prayer programs for the release of the priest and other activists jailed with him.
Some 300 people in Arunachal Pradesh state walked 16 kilometers on March 13 to draw public attention to the need to release Father Swamy and 15 others.
“We are using this pilgrimage to pray for all innocents who are languishing in different prisons in the country,” Father Felix Anthony, parish priest of the Sacred Heart Church who organized of the event, told UCA News on March 14.
The latest international demand for the priest’s release came from US representative Juan Vargas, who wanted US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken to take up the case.
Vargas, a Democrat, raised the issue before the foreign affairs committee that held a hearing on President Joe Biden administration’s priorities for US foreign policy on March 10, media reports said.