Jesuit Father Stan Swamy faces charges of sedition and links to a banned Maoist group. (Photo supplied)
An elderly Indian Jesuit priest has approached Bombay High Court seeking his release on bail a month after a special court twice turned down his bail plea.
Father Stan Swamy’s legal team on April 26 filed a bail application in the high court of Maharashtra state in western India, said Father A. Santhanam, a Jesuit who is monitoring the case.
The latest move comes a month after a special court of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the federal anti-terror agency, denied the priest bail for a second time on March 22.
Father Swamy was jailed on Oct. 9 last year, a day after the NIA arrested him on charges of sedition and links to a banned Maoist group.
“He has been in prison for over 200 days. He approached the special court twice seeking his release on bail, but unfortunately his demands were rejected after the probe agency opposed it,” Father Santhanam told UCA News on April 29.
He said it was “quite unfortunate” that the special court did not even consider the priest’s advanced age or his age-related ailments including Parkinson’s disease.
All the accused are leading rights activists who have at some time questioned the policies and programs of the government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
“The bail application is moved challenging the trial court order and also on the basis of his deteriorating health conditions,” said Father Santhanam.
On April 26, Father Swamy’s friends and confreres observed his 84th birthday online with special programs that included prayers for his release, birthday songs in different languages and cutting a cake.
Father Santhanam said Father Swamy is “positive and hopeful” of a favorable order from the state’s top court, which in February released another accused in the same case on health grounds.
According to his information, Father Swamy is not vaccinated against Covid-19.
As India is in the midst of the second wave of a Covid-19 outbreak that is claiming thousands of lives daily, Jesuits and rights groups have expressed concern about his health in the overcrowded prison.
Father Swamy first applied for bail on grounds of health and advanced age but was turned down by the special court on Oct. 26.
The priest moved the same court on Nov. 26 for regular bail, but again the court rejected it on March 22 after postponing its verdict several times.
The NIA arrested Father Swamy from his residence on the outskirts of Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand state in eastern India, maintaining that they had prima facie evidence to charge him.
Father Swamy worked among tribal people in Jharkhand for more than five decades
The NIA argued in the special court that Father Swamy and other members of a banned Maoist group conspired to create unrest in the country and to challenge the federal government run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Father Swamy is among 16 rights activists accused of similar charges linking all of them with 2018 violence in Bhima Koregaon village in Maharashtra state.
All the accused are leading rights activists who have at some time questioned the policies and programs of the government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Father Swamy worked among tribal people in Jharkhand for more than five decades, leading their struggle for basic human rights.