Indian police raid aged Jesuit's room, confiscate furniture

Rights groups say the 83-year-old priest is harassed for standing up for the rights of tribal people
Indian police raid aged Jesuit's room, confiscate furniture

Police cart away the furniture of Father Stan Swamy from his room in Jharkhand state on Oct. 21 after he had been declared an absconder in a second sedition charge leveled against him. (Photo supplied)

Indian police have confiscated the property of an 83-year-old Jesuit priest, accusing him of being an absconder from court proceedings in a sedition case leveled against him for allegedly liking a Facebook post.

A 30-member police team in Jharkhand state raided the residence of Father Stan Swamy, a noted social activist, on Oct. 21.

The police took away a table, steel almirah, three chairs and a bed from his room, the only items considered to be his personal belongings, Ashutosh Shekhar, police chief of Khunti district, told media.

The priest lives in Bagaicha, a Jesuit social work center, on the outskirts of Ranchi, the capital of the eastern state.

The raid is linked with a second sedition charge against the priest, who has been campaigning for tribal people's rights.

The first sedition charge was filed against him and nine other rights activists in August 2018. Police said the activists aided and collaborated with Maoist rebels.

Police also suspected them of attending a meeting in Pune city on Dec. 31, 2017. Following the meeting, violent clashes broke out between Dalits and higher-caste Maratha people in the Bhima Koregaon area and several other parts of Maharashtra in early January.

Jesuits and rights activists say the police action is part of political vendetta. The priest has supported a tribal uprising against the move of the state's pro-Hindu government to amend laws to take away clauses that protected tribal land. Tribal resistance forced the government to withdraw the move in 2018.

Police raided Father Stan's residence in August 2018 and June 2019 in connection with the first sedition charge and seized his laptop computer, phone SIM cards, iPod, compact discs, pen drive, some literature, research papers, books and press releases, among other things.

Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (Jharkhand rights federation) has condemned the police action.

The latest charge is linked to a post on Facebook in June 2018 that supported Pathalgadi, a movement of tribal people that demands autonomous powers in tribal dominated areas.

The Facebook post questioned state excesses in villages that supported Pathalgadi and the rights of tribal people. "The post has been framed as evidence of these activists' endorsement of the Pathalgadi movement," said a statement from the rights federation.

Jesuit Father Davis Solomon, a colleague of Father Stan, said the priest and some 20 others have been slapped with sedition charges for liking a social media post. He also said the priest never absconded or abstained from court proceedings.

However, the accused in two groups have moved the state High Court seeking to quash the police case that imposed sedition charges against them.

The High Court turned down the appeal of one group, but it is pending in the Supreme Court, India's top court. The case of Father Stan and his group is being heard in the High Court on Oct. 23.

Meanwhile, police told the district court that the priest has absconded and secured an order to confiscate his property.

An official on condition of anonymity told ucanews that police acted because Father Stan did not appear in the district even after a summons was served on him. He believes declaring him an absconder will adversely affect his case in the High Court.

The Jharkhand rights forum said the priest, activists and public intellectuals are harassed because they had criticized the anti-people policies of the ruling government, run by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

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