The Centre on Tuesday said Stan Swamy was arrested and detained by the National Investigation Agency under due process of law as human rights organisations deplored the death of the 84-year-old tribal rights activist in custody.
Swamy, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease and also contracted the coronavirus infection while in prison in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence case, died in a Mumbai hospital on Monday. Swamy was the oldest of a dozen people, most of them academics and human rights activists, jailed under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act in the case without any reliable evidence.
In a statement, foreign ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi defended the legal proceedings in the case. “Father Stan Swamy was arrested and detained by the National Investigation Agency following due process under law,” the statement said. “Because of the specific nature of charges against him, his bail applications were rejected by the courts. Authorities in India act against violations of law and not against legitimate exercise of rights. All such actions are strictly in accordance with the law.”
On May 21, the Jesuit priest 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 was put on ventilator support after suffering a cardiac arrest on Sunday.
The ministry claimed that Swamy was “receiving all possible medical attention” since May 28, while pointing out the Bombay High Court’s verdict to allow him treatment at a private hospital.
Bagchi said India has an independent judiciary, a range of national and state level human rights commissions that monitor violations. “India remains committed to promotion and protection of human rights of all its citizens,” he added.
Earlier on Tuesday, ten Opposition leaders wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind demanding action against those responsible for foisting false cases on Swamy.
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also said it was “deeply saddened and disturbed” by Swamy’s death. It urged the Indian government release persons detained without a sufficient legal basis, including those held simply for expressing dissenting views.
European Union Special Representative for Human Rights Eamon Gilmore said the bloc had repeatedly raised Swamy’s case with authorities.
UN special rapporteur for human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, had also tweeted about Swamy’s death. “The news from India today is devastating,” she said. “Human Rights Defender and Jesuit priest Stan Swamy has died in custody, nine months after his arrest on false charges of terrorism.”
The family and friends of those arrested in the case have said Swamy’s death was an “institutional murder”. Members of the civil society have also said the Modi government wanted to “make an example out of him” and those arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case.
Several activists and academics have been accused of making inflammatory speeches at the Elgar Parishad conclave held at Shaniwar Wada in Pune on December 31, 2017, which the authorities claim triggered violence at Bhima-Koregaon war memorial the next day.