‘Deeply saddened and disturbed’: UN on Stan Swamy’s death

The UN urged India to release every person detained without a sufficient legal basis, including those detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views.

Hyderabad: A day after Father Stan Swamy passed away at a hospital in Mumbai, the United Nations (UN) said it is “deeply saddened and disturbed” by the death of the 84-year-old tribal rights activist.

In a statement, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called upon India to ensure that no one is “detained for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association.”

“In light of the continued, severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more urgent that States, including India, release every person detained without a sufficient legal basis, including those detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views. This would be in line with the Indian judiciary’s calls to decongest the prisons,” the statement read.

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Stan Swamy was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) from Ranchi in October 2020 under India’s Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in connection with the Elgar Parishad case. He was lodged at the Taloja Central Jail in Navi Mumbai, where his health deteriorated and he reportedly contracted COVID-19.

In May, Swamy was shifted to the Holy Family Hospital from Taloja Central Jail for treatment as per orders by the Bombay High Court.

Swamy, the last of the 16 people to be arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case, was accused of hatching a “serious conspiracy” with members of a banned Maoist organization to create unrest in the country and to overthrow the government.

Suffering from Parkinson’s disease, Swamy had applied for bail on medical grounds but was repeatedly denied by courts. In fact, his plea asking for straw was also denied by a special NIA court.

“I would rather die here very shortly if things go on as it is,” Swamy told the judges during his last court hearing in May while requesting interim bail.

Swamy died on Monday as the Bombay High Court was considering an appeal against the rejection of his bail application.

An ‘institutional murder’?

His death has evoked widespread criticism against the government of India.

The family members and friends of the other accused arrested in the Elgar Parishad case called Swamy’s death an “institutional murder”. In a statement, they said it was “unconscionable” that someone as old as Swamy and who was suffering poor health was put in jail amid a pandemic. They blamed “negligent jails, indifferent courts, and malicious investigating agencies” for Swamy’s death.

“We, the friends and family members of those accused in the Bhima Koregaon conspiracy case are deeply pained and shaken to the core by the loss of Father Stan Swamy. This is not a natural death but the institutional murder of a gentle soul committed by an inhuman state,” the statement said.

Oppn leaders condole Swamy’s death

Several opposition leaders also expressed condolences over the activist’s death.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter and offered his “heartfelt” condolences on the passing of Father Stan Swamy. Rahul further said that Swamy “deserved justice and humaneness”.

Terming it a “murder in custody”, CPIM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said accountability must be fixed.

“Deeply pained & outraged at the death of Father Stan Swamy. A jesuit priest & social activist he tirelessly helped the marginalised. Draconian UAPA custody, inhuman treatment since October 2020 with no charge established. Accountability must be fixed for this murder in custody,” Yechury wrote in a tweet.

Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren also condoled Swamy’s death and said he was “shocked” to learn about the demise of Swamy. Soren also pointed fingers at the Union government and said, “it should be answerable for absolute apathy & non provision of timely medical services, leading to his death.”

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