Father Stan Swami, a jailed Jesuit priest and long-time Indian tribal rights activist, died on Monday in the western Indian city of Mumbai. He is 84 years old.
His lawyers and doctors told the Mumbai High Court that Swami, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, died of cardiac arrest. After Swami was denied bail in March, the court is hearing a request for bail on medical grounds.
After his health began to deteriorate rapidly, the activist was transferred from Tajola Central Prison to a private hospital in May. He was admitted to the intensive care unit, where he tested positive for COVID-19.
“Stan is committed to illuminating the world and eliminating injustice. The government may have successfully killed his life, but his spirit will continue to be inspiring,” said Father Jerome Stanislaus de Sousa, President of the Jesuit Society of India. Said in a statement.
In October, Swami was arrested in the Jharkhand state of eastern India on charges of violating the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) of India’s anti-terrorism law.
He is the oldest person accused of terrorist crimes in India.
The government’s National Bureau of Investigation arrested him and 15 other activists and scholars in 2018 for the outbreak of violence between so-called “low caste” Dalits and right-wing groups.
The authorities claimed that the arrested persons had ties to Maoist rebels, who are active in several states and are considered the country’s biggest internal security threat.
Swami insisted on his innocence and refused to have any contact with the rebels, saying that his work and writings on caste injustice and the struggles facing marginalized groups were targeted.
His arrest caused widespread anger in India, and many prominent opposition politicians and scholars demanded his release.
The anti-terrorism law was revised in 2019 to allow the government to designate individuals as terrorists. The police can detain a person for up to six months without providing any evidence, and then the defendant may be imprisoned for up to seven years.
Critics called the law harsh and accused the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of using it to suppress dissent.
In February, the government stated that between 2016 and 2019, nearly 6,000 people were arrested under the UAPA, of which 132 were convicted.
Influx of tributes
Swamy focuses on empowering and promoting indigenous tribes in India, and is known for his tireless advocacy for the rights of the most marginalized people.
Words of condolences emerged on social media on Monday.
“He deserves justice and humanity,” Rahul Gandhi, leader of the main opposition Congress Party, wrote on Twitter.
I express my heartfelt condolences to the death of Father Stan Swami.
The justice and humanity he deserves.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) July 5, 2021
The famous historian Ramachandra Guha wrote on Twitter: “Father Stan Swami has worked for the disadvantaged and disadvantaged all his life,” he called his death “a judicial murder”. .
Left-wing activist Kavita Krishnan (Kavita Krishnan) said that the judge who refused Swami’s bail had “blood on his hands.”
ended. Modi and Shah completed the imprisonment and killing of Father Stan Swami, a gentle Jesuit social worker, who served the oppressed all his life. I hope that the judges who refused his bail will not fall asleep at night: their hands are covered with blood. https://t.co/yp8Wi3SEh1
-Kavita Krishnan (@kavita_krishnan) July 5, 2021
At the same time, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, Mary Lawler, said that the news of Swami’s death was devastating.
“The imprisonment of human rights defenders is unforgivable,” she said in a tweet.
In January, to commemorate 100 days of imprisonment, Swami wrote a letter thanking everyone who supported him. He said that despite being in the same prison, he has not seen the other 15 people charged with him.
“But we still sing together. The birds in the cage can still sing,” he wrote.
At the last bail hearing in May, he predicted that if he continues to stay in prison, he will die.
“If things go on like this, I would rather die here soon,” Swami told the judges.
According to the Live Law website, his lawyer Mihir Desai told the court on Monday that no family members of Swamy survived.
“The Jesuits are his only family,” Desai said.