By Vatican News staff writer
A special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court on Friday rejected the bail plea of Father Stan Swamy, the 83-year-old Jesuit priest arrested for his alleged links with Maoist insurgents involved in the 2018 Bhima Koregaon violence case in Maharashtra state. The elderly priest has denied any involvement in the violence saying he has never been to the place in all his life.
After his arrest on October 8 by NIA agents from his residence in Ranchi in Jharkhand state, where he works for the rights of indigenous and marginalized people, Father Swamy was flown to Mumbai, where an NIA court remanded him in judicial custody the following day.
The Hindu daily newspaper reported that advocates Sharif Shaikh and Kritika Agarwal applied for bail saying the frail priest, who has Parkinson’s disease and has almost lost hearing ability in both ears, has fallen several times in custody. Due to his illness, Father Swamy was not even able to sign the documents court and had to use his fingerprint.
Shaik sought bail on humanitarian grounds under a provision by the Supreme Court to release prisoners in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. NIA, the federal agency that is charged with combatting terrorist activities, rejected the bail plea on October 23, saying Father Swamy was taking undue advantage of the pandemic. The Jesuit has since been shifted to the prison hospital, The Hindu said.
Peaceful protests, rallies and marches, including online initiatives, have been taking place across the nations against the priest’s arrest, demanding his release.
United Nations rights chief Michelle Bachelet, on October 20, also appealed to the Indian government to safeguard the rights of human rights defenders and NGOs, and their ability to carry out their crucial work on behalf of the many groups they represent. Her Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights particularly noted that “the 83-year-old Catholic priest Stan Swamy, a long-standing activist engaged in defending the rights of marginalized groups, was charged and reportedly remains in detention, despite his poor health.” She urged the government to “release people charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for simply exercising basic human rights that India is obligated to protect.”
Card. Gracias urges prayers
Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay has also remembered Father Swamy and urged prayers for his release and good health. At the start of a Mass streamed live Saturday morning, the Cardinal, who is the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), said he knows the arrested Jesuit very well. He said he was with Father Swamy for a few months in a Jesuit community 50 years ago and remembers him as a “very gentle person” and cannot imagine the terrorism charges against him.
“We pray that justice be done, that he be peaceful, keep good health and we pray that he is released soon,” the Cardinal stated.