The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday said that it was “deeply saddened and disturbed” by the death of tribal rights activist Stan Swamy.

Liz Throssell, the spokesperson for the office, said in a statement that in the light of the events and the coronavirus pandemic, the Indian government should release persons detained without a sufficient legal basis, including those held simply for expressing dissenting views.

“We stress, once again, the High Commissioner’s call on the Government of India to ensure that no one is detained for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association,” the statement said.

The 84-year-old activist died at a hospital in Mumbai on Monday afternoon. Swamy was an accused in the case related to the caste violence in the Bhima Koregaon village near Pune in 2017, and was arrested by the National Investigation Agency in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic in October 2020. He was charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Apart from other ailments, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological condition. Swamy was the oldest and the last person to be arrested in the case.

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Throssell said that High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet and the UN’s independent experts had repeatedly urged the Modi government to release Swamy and 15 others accused in the Bhima Koregaon case from pre-trial detention.

“Father Stan had been held in pre-trial detention without bail since his arrest, charged with terrorism-related offences in relation to demonstrations that date back to 2018,” the statement said. “He was a long-standing activist, particularly on the rights of indigenous peoples and other marginalised groups. While in Mumbai’s Taloja Central Jail, his health deteriorated and he reportedly contracted Covid-19. His repeated applications for bail were rejected.”

On May 21, Swamy had urged the Bombay High Court that he be allowed to go back to Ranchi, his home town, as his condition had deteriorated to a point that he could not even do basic tasks like eating and bathing by himself. He had also moved the High Court challenging the rejection of his bail pleas and also a section of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.