Stan Swamy, a Jesuit priest, and human rights advocate died in custody Monday at the age of 84 after 270 days of arbitrary confinement. Despite his precarious health condition, advanced age, and positive Covid-19 test, the authorities consistently denied him parole and necessary treatment. I urge an unbiased and transparent investigation into Mr. Swamy’s death in order to hold all those responsible accountable.
Stan Swamy was a well-known human rights defender who founded the Jesuit social research and training center “Bagaicha” in Ranchi, Jharkhand State, in 2005 to defend the rights of Adivasi indigenous communities, to combat forced displacement, and to denounce discrimination and illegal land acquisition.
On October 8, 2020, officials of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested him without a warrant at his Ranchi, Jharkhand, residence. He was relocated the following day to Mumbai, Maharashtra State, and imprisoned in Taloja jail near Mumbai on politically motivated accusations brought under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Authorities falsely alleged he was involved in anti-caste riots at Bhima Koregaon, Maharashtra, on January 1, 2018. The UAPA authorizes the detention of inmates without charges for up to 180 days and restricts their access to bail.
Stan Swamy was suffering from advanced Parkinson’s disease and was in poor health at the time of his arrest. Nonetheless, officials ignored his health needs while he was detained and refused to provide him with sufficient medical care, hence increasing his risk of developing Covid-19. By November 2020, his bail application had been denied and his health had deteriorated significantly. Stan Swamy was unable to handle glass, frequently fell, and suffered from hearing loss.
In March 2021, he was denied bail by the NIA Court in Mumbai, claiming that there was sufficient evidence to establish his involvement in a “deep-rooted conspiracy.” The Taloja jail, which was already overcrowded, lacked proper medical facilities, doctors, and nursing personnel. By detaining Stan Swamy, the authorities infringed his right to dignity and humanity, as well as his right to personal liberty and health, all of which are guaranteed by international law.
The Bombay High Court ordered Stan Swamy’s relocation to the Holy Family hospital on May 28, 2021, due to his bad health. He tested positive for Covid-19. Despite his deteriorating health, his medical bail hearing has been continuously rescheduled for July 5, 2021. Stan Swamy, on the other hand, was unable to attend the July 5 hearing since he died the same day.
In connection with the Bhima Koregaon case, 15 human rights defenders, including Stan Swamy, have been detained under the UAPA. The majority of them are over 60 years old, have serious health issues, and are at a higher risk of Covid-19 infection.
I am appalled by Stan Swamy’s death and extend my heartfelt sympathies and solidarity to his friends, family, and Jesuit and lay colleagues. I request the Indian government to conduct an immediate investigation into Stan Swamy’s death, provide compensation and justice to his family, and release all human rights advocates unfairly incarcerated in the nation in order to prevent such unnecessary deaths.
William Nicholas Gomes
Human rights activist and freelance Journalist