South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional human rights defenders’ network is deeply distressed by the tragic demise of Fr. Stan Swamy in prolonged detention. At the same time, SAHR is outraged by the state-aided death of this 84-year-old Jesuit priest who committed his entire life promoting Dalit and Adivasi rights.
Arrested in 2020, Fr. Stan Swamy, the last of the 16 Indian activists arrested for the Bhima Koregaon incident and charged under several sections of the infamous Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), an anti-terror law. This law, with its severe 2019 amendment, places the burden of proving their innocence on the arrested, suspends their fundamental constitutional rights and also violates the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights which recognises the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ – a universal human right. The arrest of the 16 activists under the UAPA brings out the government of India’s high level of intolerance against dissent and as observed by the Delhi High Court recently in granting bail for 3 Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protesters, blurs the line of the State’s interpretation between the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activities.
Reportedly, using detention itself as the punishment appears to have been the objective against Fr. Stan and the other detainees. SAHR learns that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) did not seek the custody of Fr. Stan Swamy after his arrest or interrogated him, let alone transferring him- an octogenarian suffering from Parkinson’s disease and age-related ailments to Taloja jail in Maharashtra amidst the COVID-19 pandemic raging across the country. Repeatedly denied the constitutional right to bail even on medical grounds, Fr. Stan Swamy languished in jail in judicial custody without even the commencement of a trial to prove his innocence. Additionally, as a person afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, he was deprived of the very basic medical necessities by the prison administration. These stark setbacks emphasise the growing malaise of the judicial institutions and calls for urgent reforms that adequately facilitate to serve the citizenship of a democratic nation.
SAHR representing concerned South Asians deeply mourns the death of Fr. Stan Swamy. It advocates that the government of India should immediately conduct the trial and clear his name and prove his innocence before law. It strongly calls upon the government to repeal the draconian UAPA which has been misused to curb the right to defend human rights, right to peaceful protest as well as to restrict freedoms of expression and assembly; it firmly urges the authorities to treat all those who are in custody/detention under UAPA attentively and preserve their well-being. Finally, SAHR takes this opportunity to pay its highest respect to those people engaged in continuous struggles for social justice and democratic principles in India even by risking their own personal safety and security as well as the lives of their families.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights,
Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy
Dr. Roshmi Goswami