Fr Stan Swamy had been showing symptoms of Covid 19 for the last two weeks. On 14 May, in a telephone conversation, the 84-year-old Jesuit, falsely accused of terrorism and incarcerated in Taloja prison since 9 October 2020, had told his friend and companion, Joseph Xavier, SJ: “I feel unwell; I have a strong headache, fever and cough. I feel very weak.”
He was transferred on Friday 29 May to Holy Family Hospital on the orders of the Mumbai High Court, at the request of his lawyer. On May 21, the hearing on interim bail based on medical grounds was held before the Mumbai High Court and the bail rejected. The Jesuit priest, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and other ailments, appeared via video conference and said in a weak voice:
“I was brought to Taloja jail eight months ago and since then there has been a slow degeneration of my body. I can neither write nor go for a walk by myself or eat. Someone has to feed me with a spoon. When I came here eight months ago, my body was functional. I ask you to consider why and how this regression of myself. Before I used to put on my earphones, any conversation I was able to follow. Now I am not able to. My only request is for interim bail. I want to go to Ranchi and be with my friends.”
The judge then asked he would like to be admitted to JJ Hospital for a few days to improve his general health conditions. Father Stan Swamy answered, “I do not want to be admitted to JJ Hospital. It is a very difficult moment for me. I am eating less and less and my co-accused are worried about me. I would prefer to suffer and die like this in Taloja jail than being admitted to JJ hospital. “To this, the judge said, “There is no question of interim bail. All these issues related to his general health are owing to his old age.”
As mentioned in the press release issued by the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat, families of the 16 activists and human rights defenders- all of them imprisoned like Fr. Stan Swamy for the Bhima Koregoan case- had denounced in a press conference the appalling conditions in India’s Taloja prison due to the Covid-19 pandemic and demanded their immediate release, calling their imprisonment “a death sentence.”
Background to Fr Swamy activism and arrest
Fr Stan Swamy has worked for more than 40 years to defend the rights to land and resources of the Adivasis or indigenous communities in the Indian state of Jharkhand. Together with other organisations, he documented in a study how young indigenous activists were imprisoned and languished in jail for years without trial on charges under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), a law that has led to the arrest of more than 5000 people under the nationalist Narendra Modi government. Many of those imprisoned are minority rights defenders, accused of conspiring against the government or having links with extremists and Maoists.
Fr Swamy has always strongly denied the accusations against him. In a video message recorded two days prior to his arrest, he said: “What is happening to me is not something unique happening to me alone. It is a broader process that is taking place all over the country… Many activists, lawyers, writers, journalists, student leaders, poets, intellectuals, and others who stand for the rights of Adivasis, Dalits, and the marginalized and express their dissent to the ruling powers of the country are being targeted and put into jail.”
Advocacy by Jesuit Network and UN Special Rapporteurs
In a recent statement by the Jesuit Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat, following Fr Swamy´s detention, the Society of Jesus and a number of civil society groups campaigned, mobilized and advocated throughout India and worldwide for his release and the release of the 15 others who have been incarcerated since 2018.
In a press release on October 20, 2020, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed her concern about the case of Fr Swamy and urged the Indian authorities “to release people charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for simply exercising basic human rights that India is obligated to protect.” On November 3rd, 2020, the United Nations Vice-Chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and the Special Rapporteur on minority issues released a statement raising concerns over the arbitrary detention and harassment of Fr Swamy in response to his peaceful human rights work.
[Image from CPAL]