Elgar Parishad Case: Stan Swamy had told the High Court via video-conferencing that his health had consistently declined at the Taloja prison in Navi Mumbai and if he was not granted interim bail, he “would die soon”.
New Delhi: Stan Swamy, an 84-year-old priest-activist arrested under an anti-terror law in the Elgar Parishad case last year, died today in the middle of his fight for bail on health grounds. The Jesuit priest had been on a ventilator since yesterday when his health took a sharp turn for the worse.
Stan Swamy was being treated at the private Holy Family Hospital in Mumbai following a court order on May 28. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) had suggested a government hospital, to which, he had said: “I’d rather die here in prison.”
Jailed near Mumbai since October, Stan Swamy spent the last few months of his life fighting legal battles for even the smallest of needs. In December, he was allowed a straw and a sipper in jail, which he had requested in court on account of Parkinson’s disease. He had requested medical treatment and interim bail multiple times.
The NIA, which arrested him in October from his home in a widely criticized late-night swoop, opposed his bail request in court and had said there was no “conclusive proof” of his medical ailments. The agency held firm to its argument that Stan Swamy was a Maoist who had plotted to cause unrest in the country.
Stan Swamy had told the High Court via video-conferencing that his health had consistently declined at the Taloja prison in Navi Mumbai and if he was not granted interim bail, he “would die soon”.
Last week, Stan Swamy had filed a fresh plea for bail in the Bombay High Court, challenging the stringent conditions for bail to an accused charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). When the hearing started today, his lawyer told the High Court that the activist had died at 1.30 pm.
Messages and tributes poured in, with opposition parties and activists accusing the government of hounding the elderly activist.
UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, shared his video along with a message: “The news from India today is devastating. Human Rights Defender and Jesuit priest Fr Stan Swamy has died in custody, nine months after his arrest on false charges of terrorism. Jailing HRDs (Human Rights Defenders) is inexcusable.” EU’S Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore, also tweeted.
The news from #India today is devastating. Human Rights Defender & Jesuit priest Fr Stan Swamy has died in custody, nine months after his arrest on false charges of terrorism. Jailing HRDs is inexcusable. He explains his work here: https://t.co/kKPhM6IaHu pic.twitter.com/YoEpst0ol2
— Mary Lawlor UN Special Rapporteur HRDs (@MaryLawlorhrds) July 5, 2021
India: I am very saddened to hear that Fr #StanSwamy has passed away. A defender of indigenous peoples’ rights. He was held in detention for the past 9 months. The EU had been raising his case repeatedly with authorities. https://t.co/DNpNa1r8cq
— Eamon Gilmore (@EamonGilmore) July 5, 2021
Stan Swamy had in the past complained to the court of poor health facilities in prison. He and other accused in the case had alleged neglect by prison officials in ensuring medical aid, tests, hygiene and social distancing in the time of Covid.
The Elgar Parishad case relates to an event on December 31, 2017 in Koregaon-Bhima near Pune, which was followed by violence and arson that left one person dead. Investigators claim that activists at the event, an Elgar Parishad meet, had made inflammatory speeches and provocative statements that led to violence the next day.
The NIA said senior leaders of the CPI (Maoist), a banned organisation under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, were in contact with the organisers of the Elgar Parishad event as well as the arrested activists, and aimed to spread Maoist and Naxal ideology and encourage unlawful activities.
Stan Swamy, who had worked with tribals in Jharkhand for over five decades, was accused by the NIA of links to Naxals, especially the banned CPI (Maoists). He was arrested from his home in Jharkhand capital Ranchi by a team of NIA officials from Delhi. He had denied the charges and had flagged his health worries to investigators.
Two days before his arrest, he had said in a video statement: “They are even asking me to go to Mumbai for further interrogation, which I am refusing to go. Because of my age, I have certain ailments. There is the epidemic which is ravaging the country… This is something that I am communicating to them and let us hope that some human sense will prevail.”Several prominent activists, scholars and lawyers have spent over two years in jail as they wait for trial in the case.
Stan Swamy was the oldest to be arrested. He had also tested positive for the coronavirus at a private hospital last month and was subsequently shifted to the ICU.