A Catholic priest holds a placard with the image of Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy during a protest in Secunderabad on Oct. 21 against his arrest in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. (Photo: AFP)
Christian leaders and civil rights groups have repeated their demand for the release of jailed Indian Jesuit priest Stan Swamy to mark his 84th birthday and 200th day in jail on April 26.
Jesuits from across the globe joined an online birthday celebration on April 25, praying for Father Swamy’s health and long life. They also cut a cake to express their love and solidarity with him.
The priest, who suffers from age-related illnesses including Parkinson’s disease, was jailed on Oct. 9 last year, a day after he was arrested on charges of sedition and links with outlawed Maoist rebels.
Irudaya Swamy, his elder brother, joined other family members and parishioners of his home parish Viragalur in Trichy Diocese in Tamil Nadu state.
“We are with you, dear Father,” said Irudaya in a trembling voice. “We will continue to pray for you.”
Other family members and parishioners also promised prayers and urged the government to release him so that he can get better care at his advanced age.
Rights groups say the charges are trumped up as those detained have angered the government
Civil rights groups pasted posters across all major cities in Tamil Nadu demanding the immediate release of the priest and 15 others detained with him.
“Yes, this is for the first time that we see a priest’s birthday is celebrated across the country and especially in Tamil Nadu,” said Father A. Santhanam, a Jesuit colleague of Father Swamy based in Madurai.
Besides sedition and Maoist links, Father Swamy and others are accused of conspiring to organize a violent incident in Bhima Koregaon village in Maharashtra on Jan. 1, 2018. The violence led to one person dying and 20 being injured.
A special court of the federal anti-terror National Investigation Agency has denied the priest bail after postponing its judgment several times. He was also denied bail on health grounds.
All 16 people arrested in the case are human rights activists and are charged under the stringent non-bailable clauses of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
Rights groups say the charges are trumped up as those detained have angered the government. The arrested people have criticized the policies and programs of the federal government run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party at some point, they point out.
Father Swamy’s life is a gift to so many people everywhere, particularly the poor and the excluded
“It is true Father Swamy is in prison, but his gift of life is being celebrated among Jesuits across the world, especially in India and by people who benefited from his work among others,” Father Santhanam said.
Father Cedric Prakash, a Jesuit human rights activist based in Gujarat state, said Father Swamy’s life is a gift “to so many people everywhere, particularly the poor and the excluded, the Adivasis and Dalits, to the country, the Church and the Society of Jesus.”
Father Swamy “taught us the true meaning of solidarity and what it means to sincerely walk the talk,” said Father Prakash in a note circulated online.
The jailed priest’s life is also an example of how “to meaningfully empower the exploited and the excluded … to accompany them visibly and vocally, with prophetic courage, through difficulties and hostilities, for a more just and humane society.”