84-year-old activist’s death turns spotlight on India’s anti-terrorism laws

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Jesuit priest Stan Swamy died age 84 on Monday on the Holy Household Hospital in a Mumbai suburb after struggling cardiac arrest, his physician informed the Bombay Excessive Court docket later that day. The court docket was listening to an pressing plea for bail on medical grounds, which Swamy was earlier denied in March.

Swamy was residing with Parkinson’s Illness and had just lately contracted Covid-19 in jail. At a listening to for his bail software in Could, the court docket famous Swamy had a “extreme listening to drawback” and was “bodily very weak.”

For many years, he fought for the human rights of India’s marginalized and indigenous teams, talking and writing in depth about caste-based injustices.

India’s caste system was formally abolished in 1950, however the 2,000-year-old social hierarchy imposed on individuals by beginning nonetheless exists in lots of elements of life. The caste system categorizes Hindus at beginning, defining their place in society, what jobs they will do and who they will marry.

In October final yr, Swamy was arrested and charged beneath the nation’s anti-terrorism legal guidelines, which critics have described as draconian.

Swamy, together with 15 different activists and lecturers, was accused by authorities of being concerned with a “banned terrorist group” and for being co-conspirators in a 2018 violent incident, in line with an announcement by the nation’s anti-terrorism activity pressure quickly after his arrest.

Within the incident, referred to as the Bhima Koregaon case, bloody clashes broke out between lower-caste and different regional teams within the state of Maharashtra.

Lots of of 1000’s of Dalits — who’re ranked the bottom in India’s caste-based system — had gathered within the village of Bhima Koregaon to mark the 200th anniversary of a battle during which they, as a part of the then-British colonial military, defeated an upper-caste ruler, when the violence broke out.

Authorities accused Swamy of getting ties with the group liable for the violence, and allege that he had hyperlinks to Maoist rebels, who’re thought of one of many nation’s greatest safety threats. In a video recorded days earlier than his arrest, Swamy denied all involvement and stated he had by no means visited the situation the place the violence befell.

His arrest sparked outrage worldwide, prompting a number of opposition politicians, nationwide and worldwide rights teams to demand his launch.

Catholic nuns hold placards during a protest against the arrest of Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy on October 21, 2020.

‘Choose to die in jail’

Regardless of Swamy’s worsening well being, which was exacerbated when he contracted coronavirus in jail final month, authorities repeatedly rejected his attorneys’ pre-trial bail pleas to permit him to get better at house.

The Nationwide Investigation Company in-charge of the case had contested Swamy’s bail software on medical grounds, citing the severity of the accusations in opposition to him, and claimed he was receiving correct care inside the jail.

Swamy was allegedly not allowed to drink from a straw as his mobility worsened in custody — a declare the anti-terrorism pressure has denied, calling it “incorrect and mischievous” in an announcement final yr.

The activist informed the court docket he would “choose to die in jail, fairly than get admitted to any hospital,” in line with court docket paperwork reviewed by CNN.

On court docket orders, Swamy was moved to the Holy Household Hospital on the finish of Could.

India’s Ministry of Exterior Affairs stated in a assertion Tuesday that Swarmy was arrested and detained “following due technique of the legislation.”

In gentle of Swarmy’s ailing well being, he was allowed medical therapy at a personal hospital, the place since Could 28 he had obtained “all potential medical consideration,” the ministry stated.

A slew of opposition politicians, rights teams and lecturers, have expressed unhappiness for his demise — in addition to anger for the legal guidelines beneath which he was arrested and denied bail. Critics have lengthy accused India’s authorities of more and more utilizing anti-terrorism legal guidelines as a method to quell any type of dissent.

In an announcement Monday, the Archbishop of Bombay, Oswald Cardinal Gracias, known as Swamy’s arrest “very painful.”

“One is harmless till proved responsible,” the assertion stated. “Fr. Stan’s case didn’t even come up for listening to.”

Gracias added Swamy had given marginalized teams in India a “sense of dignity and upliftment,” including that he labored “single-mindedly for the poor.”

Rahul Gandhi, chief of India’s opposition Congress get together, tweeted Monday that Swamy “deserved justice and humanness.”

Harsh Mander, a outstanding Indian rights activist known as Swamy’s demise a “tragedy for the nation.”

“A merciless state jailed him to silence his voice, the judiciary did nothing to safe his freedom,” he stated on Twitter.
Worldwide figures have spoken out as properly — the European Union’s particular consultant for human rights stated the EU had been “elevating his case repeatedly with authorities,” calling Swamy a “defender of indigenous individuals’s rights.”

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, stated Swamy’s arrest highlights “a level of cruelty and callousness that’s shameful.”

“The counter terror legislation is draconian. We see it’s getting used rampantly to jail peaceable critics with out bail,” Ganguly stated. “It was for the courts to determine if Swamy was responsible, however in repeatedly stifling bail, the authorities selected to not defend,” the “fragile, ailing” activist, she added.

CNN’s Vedika Sud contributed reporting.



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