Updated: October 09, 2020 10:35 AM GMT
Father Stan Swamy has consistently denied any connections to Maoist rebels. (Photo: UCA News)
Father Stan Swamy, an elderly Jesuit activist priest in eastern India, has been arrested for his alleged links to outlawed Maoist rebels and other terrorist groups — a charge church authorities and the priest have denied many times in the past.
National Investigation Agency (NIA) officers took the 84-year-old priest into custody at night on Oct. 8 from his residence at Bagaicha, a Jesuit social work center on the outskirts of Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand state.
The sickly priest, whose birth name is Stanislaus Lourdusamy, is accused of being party to a conspiracy that led to a violent clash in Bhima Koregaon in the western state of Maharashtra on Jan. 1, 2018, in which one person was killed and several others injured.
“We have no idea where he is now,” Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, the auxiliary bishop of Ranchi Archdiocese, told UCA News on Oct. 9.
“We are worried about his health after NIA sleuths took him away in gross violation of the Covid-19 guidelines.”
Bishop Mascarenhas, a former secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), criticized the timing of the NIA action.
“It is very sad that a premier investigating agency like the NIA could not find time during the day to interrogate such an elderly person who has always cooperated with the investigation,” he said.
“The timing of their arrival at the residence of the priest, after the sun has set and darkness has fallen, perhaps manifests the evil designs of those who are dealing with the case.”
A special investigation team of Maharashtra police had previously conducted searches at the priest’s residence and even seized his computer and other items after sedition charges were filed against him and nine other activists in August 2018.
The police claimed that the activists aided and collaborated with Maoist rebels and were waging a war against the nation.
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties condemned the latest arrest of Father Swamy, describing it as an “inhuman and insensitive” act that exposed the authorities “sheer vindictiveness.”
Church leaders and rights activists associated with the priest said the NIA action was part of a political vendetta.
The priest supported a tribal uprising against the state's then pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party government’s attempt to amend laws to take away clauses that protected tribal land. Tribal resistance forced the government to withdraw the move in 2018.
Father Swamy has been actively involved in empowering indigenous people.