Screen-shot of a video campaign in social media seeking the release of the 84-year-old Jesuit Father Stan Swamy. A court in India's Mumbai city denied him bail on March 22. (Photo: Facebook)
Church officials in India have vowed to fight for the freedom of an 84-year-old Jesuit arrested for having links to a banned organization after a special court denied him bail this week.The special court of the National Investigating Agency (NIA), a federal anti-terror organization in Mumbai, denied bail to Jesuit Father Stan Swamy on March 22, after postponing a decision to grant it several times since February.The denial comes five months after the elderly priest was detained on Oct. 8. He was accused of having links with a banned Maoist group and charged under non-bailable provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The denial of bail to Father Swamy “proves that the government is still panicked by dissenting voices of intellectuals,” said Father A. Santhanam, a Jesuit lawyer, who is closely monitoring the case.
Father Swamy is among 16 activists and intellectuals arrested last year in connection with a violent incident in Bhima Koregaon village Maharashtra state on Jan. 1, 2018, in which one person was killed and several others wounded.
The NIA investigators claim those arrested conspired with Maoists to incite Dalits and Muslims against the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi.
Human rights groups say those arrested have at some point opposed policies and programs of federal and state governments led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“The NIA should be ready for trial or submit no objection for the release of all the arrested in this case. Judicial custody for years while awaiting trial is a human rights violation,” Father Santhanam told UCA News.
The priest, based in southern Tamil Nadu state has vowed to continue the fight “until the elderly priest gets justice.”
He claimed Father Swamy was imprisoned for filing public interest litigation (PIL) in Jharkhand High Court for the release of innocent young indigenous people languishing in the state’s prisons in 2018 when the BJP ran the government.
Some of the jailed people were also accused of having links with Maoists, who are accused of running a parallel government in some parts of Jharkhand.
Bail is a right of a pre-trial prisoner. Unchecked and unending judicial custody should not be a punishment for unproven allegations against anyone,” the lawyer-priest told UCA News March 22.
Father Swamy sought bail on Oct. 23, two weeks after his arrest, on medical grounds as the priest suffers from Parkinson's disease. But was turned down.
His lawyer Sharif Shaikh moved to the court for regular bail on Nov. 26, highlighting that he had to be shifted to the prison hospital due to declining health.
The lawyer also told the court that his name was not in the initial report, but was later added as a suspect.
Public Prosecutor Prakash Shetty opposed the bail plea and said that Father Swamy was involved with banned Maoist rebels. Shetty claimed to have incriminating evidence against Father Swamy from the priest’s own laptop and elsewhere.
Father Jerome Stanislaus D’Souza, president of the Jesuits in South Asia, said the denial of bail has “saddened” the order.
“He will be released soon and acquitted after a fair trial. We have a deep faith in the Constitution of India and in the judiciary,” he said in a March 22 statement.
“We pray to God for strength and courage to bear this painful verdict” and asked Jesuits “to continue with prayers" for the legal team that is working for the release of Father Swamy.