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Indian Jesuit's death prompts call to end 'political' incarceration

Opposition political leaders describe Father Stan Swamy's case as a 'death in custody'

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Published: July 08, 2021 06:25 AM GMT

Updated: July 08, 2021 11:00 AM GMT

Indian Jesuit's death prompts call to end 'political' incarceration

Two Catholic nuns join Communist Party of India leaders for a protest in Kolkata on July 6 in connection with the death of activist Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy. (Photo: Sukhomoy Sen/AFP)

The death of an 84-year-old Jesuit under detention has motivated India’s opposition leaders to write to President Ramnath Kovind seeking the release of all who are jailed “under politically motivated cases.”

Their letter came two days after Father Stan Swamy died of post-Covid-19 complications in a Mumbai hospital while he was still under detention after repeatedly being denied bail.

The leaders said Father Swamy’s case was a "death in custody" and added that “the numerous appeals made to shift him out of the overcrowded Taloja jail that had seen a huge rise in Covid cases went unheeded.”

The politicians, including Congress president Sonia Gandhi, sought Kovind’s intervention to direct the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to act against "those responsible for foisting false cases on him, his continued detention in jail, and inhuman treatment.”

The 12 opposition leaders who signed the letter are chief ministers of several Indian states, communist leaders and former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda.

They said Father Swamy was denied treatment for his various ailments including debilitating Parkinson’s disease. “Only after a nationwide campaign was even a sipper to drink liquids made available to him in jail,” said their letter.

The priest was among 16 activists and intellectuals accused of conspiring with outlawed Maoists to destabilize the Modi government

Father Swamy’s “appeals for bail and being sent home too were rejected. Thanks to the Bombay High Court’s intervention, he was admitted to a private hospital when his condition started deteriorating after he was infected with Covid. But it was too late to prevent his death in custody,” the letter said.

He tested positive for Covid-19 in hospital but recovered. However, he suffered a cardiac arrest over the weekend and died on July 5, hospital sources said.

Father Swamy was arrested last October under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) after being linked with a violent incident in 2018 in a village called Bhima Koregaon in western India's Maharashtra state.

The priest was among 16 activists and intellectuals accused of conspiring with outlawed Maoists to destabilize the Modi government.

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It is now incumbent that all those jailed in the Bhima Koregaon case and others detained under politically motivated cases, misusing the UAPA, be released forthwith, said the letter.

According to government records, some 6,000 people were arrested under the UAPA between 2016 and 2019 across India, but only 132 were convicted.

The UAPA, enacted to check terrorist activities, effectively allows indefinite detention of those arrested without trial.

Rights groups and opposition political leaders accuse the Modi regime of using the law to detain critics of government policies to silence them and intimidate others.

Hundreds of tribal people demonstrated on the streets of Jharkhand's capital Ranchi, where Father Swamy based his work for tribal rights, on July 6, holding the Modi government responsible for his death.

An official government statement on July 6 said the courts denied bail to the priest because of the nature of charges against him and the process of law was followed in his case.

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