Updated: April 03, 2021 01:46 AM GMT
Father Stan Swamy has been denied bail several times since he was arrested on Oct. 8. (Photo: YouTube)
More than 2,500 influential Indians have signed an open letter demanding the release of jailed elderly Jesuit Father Stan Swamy after a special court turned down his bail application.
The court of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), a federal anti-terror combat agency, on March 22 refused to grant bail to 84-year-old Father Swamy, ignoring his ill health, age and other difficulties he is facing in jail.
The signatories, who included academics, activists, artists, filmmakers, economists, journalists, lawyers and retired bureaucrats, expressed their shock over the court decision on the priest, who has been languishing in a prison in Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra state in western India, since Oct. 9, a day after his arrest.
The NIA team arrested Father Swamy from his residence at Bagaicha, a Jesuit social work center in Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand state in eastern India, where the priest worked to improve the lives of poor indigenous people.
He is charged with sedition under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), leaving him with little or no chance of bail.
Father Swamy is among 16 accused over violence in Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra on Jan. 1, 2018, in which one person was killed and several others injured.
“Eighty-four-year old Stan Swamy is a Parkinson’s disease patient with severe tremors in both hands. He has trouble drinking from a glass, taking a bath and washing clothes on his own. He has other health ailments as well,” the signatories stated in their letter.
They also pointed out that the priest had cooperated with Maharashtra police and the NIA without fail.
“Rejection of the bail of an elderly and ailing person, with limited mobility and no history of violence against others, is beyond comprehension,” the letter stated.
“We know Father Swamy as an exceptionally gentle, honest and selfless person. We have the highest regard for him and his work. He has spent decades in Jharkhand working for the rights of the Adivasis and underprivileged.
“It is ironic that while public support for Father Swamy continues to grow, the court rejected the bail application in the ‘community’s interest’.”
The priest has denied wrongdoing and said he had never even visited Bhima Koregaon, but the NIA claims he was part of a conspiracy with outlawed Maoist rebels.
Father Swamy has accused NIA officials of interpolating his laptop and computer to trap him in the case after he opposed the dilution of land laws in Jharkhand that allowed non-tribal people to purchase indigenous people’s land.
The then pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata party government in Jharkhand had to withdraw the diluted land law after public protests involving Father Swamy among others.
“Father Swamy is a symbol of the plight of thousands of under-trial prisoners who languish in jail for years under fabricated UAPA charges, often aimed at harassing those who stand up for the underprivileged or oppose the government,” the letter added.
“We appeal for immediate bail for Father Swamy, repeal of the UAPA and a return to the norm where bail is the rule, not the exception.”
One of the signatories, A.C. Michael, told UCA News on April 1 that it was “very sad that the court rejected the bail of a person who is unable to manage his daily chores.”
“It is also a fact that Father Swamy at his advanced age will not be able to even walk properly without external support and will not jump bail,” he added.
The motive of putting Father Swamy and others in jail, he said, “is a warning to everyone who speaks against the government of the day and its policies.”
Michael also suspected that the NIA is working under the instructions of some powers within the government rather than using its wisdom.