A group of 2,000 signatories, including activists and scholars, on Friday opposed 83-year-old human rights activist Stan Swamy’s arrest by the National Investigation Agency in the Bhima Koregaon case. The group also appealed to Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren to oppose his arrest.
The signatories include economist Jean Drèze, Delhi University professor Nandini Sundar, lawyer Rebecca John, author Natasha Badhwar, among others.
Swamy was arrested on Thursday from the Jesuit-run Bagaicha social centre in Ranchi. His colleagues said that no warrant was provided for his arrest and that NIA officials were “rough and arrogant”. A special NIA court on Friday sent him to judicial custody till October 23, reported PTI.
In a statement released earlier in the day, Swamy said he had recently been interrogated by the central agency for 15 hours over a span of five days – July 27 to July 30 and then on August 6. The investigating officials presented several extracts of information allegedly taken from his computer implicating his connection to “Maoist forces”.
“The inhuman and insincere act of the NIA authorities in arresting Stan Swamy stands out for its sheer vindictiveness for Stan fully cooperated with the investigating officers of the NIA when they questioned him at his residence in Bagaicha for over 15 hours (on 27-30 July and 6 August),” the statement read. “Stan has consistently denied any link with extremist leftist forces or Maoists.”
The group noted that Swamy had raised concern about the agency presenting fabricated evidence against him. “He had also clearly told the NIA that some so-called extracts allegedly taken from his computer shown to him by the NIA were fake and fabricated and that he disowned them,” the signatories said. “It is deeply worrying that the NIA arrested an 84-year old with several health ailments during the Covid epidemic and made him travel to Mumbai.”
The signatories highlighted Swamy’s work to uphold the rights of Adivasis and other underprivileged groups in the state. “Among other issues, he works on displacement, corporate loot of resources, the condition of undertrials and PESA [Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act] and related laws,” the statement read. “We know Stan as an exceptionally gentle, honest and selfless person.”
The group said it believed that the Bhima Koregaon case, being driven by the Narendra Modi-led administration, was a “baseless fabrication”. “The central government, in the guise of the Bhima Koregaon case, is trying to build a false narrative of a national Maoist conspiracy against the state that involves these activists,” the statement said. “The main objective of the case is to target and harass activists who work for the rights of Adivasis, Dalits and the marginalised and raise questions against the anti-people policies of the government.”
They added that the Bhima Koregaon case exposed the extent to which the Centre was willing to undermine constitutional values and stifle dissent. “The arrest of Stan Swamy is also an attack on all those working for human and constitutional rights in Jharkhand,” the statement said.
The signatories pointed out that Soren had opposed Swamy’s arrest as a leader of the Opposition in June 2019. They appealed to the chief minister to raise his voice against Swamy’s arrest and demand the Centre to immediately release him and close the case.
On Thursday, human rights organisation People’s Union for Civil Liberties expressed shock over the activist’s arrest, calling for his immediate release.
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