A Catholic priest holds a placard with an image of Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy during a protest in Secunderabad on Oct. 21 against his arrest in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. (Photo: AFP)
An elderly Indian Jesuit priest remains in jail after a special court deferred hearing his bail plea for a fourth time following opposition from the federal probe agency that arrested him two months ago on charges of sedition and links to Maoist rebels.
The bail application of 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy came up for hearing on Dec. 14 before the special court of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) based in Mumbai, capital of western India's Maharashtra state.
The NIA, a federal anti-terror combat unit, asserted that it had gathered serious evidence against the accused and urged the court not to grant bail. It also said granting bail to Father Swamy would adversely affect the probe, which it said was not yet completed.
“The court, however, posted the application for a detailed hearing on Dec. 21,” Father Santhanam, a Jesuit lawyer-priest who is monitoring the case, told UCA News on Dec. 15.
“Now, we will have to wait at least a week more to know the fate of his bail application. Based on that, we will decide the future course of action.”
Father Swamy has been seeking bail since his arrest on Oct. 8. He was taken from his residence in Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand state in eastern India, to Mumbai after being linked to a 2018 violent incident in Maharashtra.
On Oct. 23, the court turned down Father Swamy’s bail plea, sought on the grounds of his poor health. The priest has Parkinson’s disease besides other age-related illnesses.
On Nov. 26, he applied for regular bail, which was posted for Dec. 4. It was again adjourned to Dec. 10 but posted to Dec. 14 as the judge was on leave.
The priest is charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), making it difficult for him to gain bail.
The NIA arrested the priest and 16 others, accusing them of planning and executing the violence in the Bhima Koregaon area of Maharashtra in which one person was killed and many others injured. They are also accused of cooperating with outlawed Maoist rebels and conspiring against the state.
The priest and others arrested have rejected the charges as false and fabricated, accusing the probe agency of working at the behest of the federal government run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party because of their public stand against policies of the federal and some BJP-ruled state governments.
Meanwhile, demands for the release of Father Swamy and the other detainees are gaining momentum within India and abroad.
An International Solidarity Group with members from different countries appealed to the Indian government to release the elderly priest.
In a statement issued on International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, the Jesuit-linked group expressed its “grave concerns” over the state of the embattled priest, who is reportedly struggling in jail because of his ailments.
The arrest and detention of Father Swamy are in violation of the human rights, the statement said while urging the government to release him and others.