Death of Indian Jesuit while in detention stirs outcry in India, abroad

Civil society groups in Patna, the state capital of Bihar, hold demonstrations to call for justice for Jesuit Indian priest Stan Swamy who died while in detention on July 5, 2021. (Contributed photo)

The death of Indian Jesuit priest Stanislaus Lourduswamy, popularly known as Stan Swamy, while in detention caused an outcry in India and abroad.

On July 6, the United Nations said it was deeply disturbed by the death of the 84-year-old priest who championed the rights of indigenous peoples.

Father Swamy, who was in detention for almost nine months over terrorism-related charges, died on July 5 ahead of a scheduled bail hearing.

Liz Throssell, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said they are “deeply saddened and disturbed” by the death of the priest.

The UN body reiterated its call for India to ensure that no one is “detained for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association.”

Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, described the news of the priest’s death as “devastating”.

The European Union’s Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore, said the EU had been raising Father Swamy’s case repeatedly.

Bärbel Kofler, Germany’s Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance, said she was “deeply saddened” by the Jesuit priest’s death.

“I met him on my travels to India in 2018, his fight for the Adivasi, marginalized groups and against poverty inspired me greatly and was a comfort to many,” Kofler said in a Twitter post.

“It is difficult to understand why, at over 84 years of age and with severe health problems, he had to spend the last nine months of his life in prison,” she wrote.

Civil society groups in Patna, the state capital of Bihar, hold demonstrations to call for justice for Jesuit Indian priest Stan Swamy who died while in detention on July 5, 2021. (Contributed photo)

He has been in detention since last year after he was arrested for terror-related offenses under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Indian authorities alleged that the priest supported the cause of banned communist groups through his civil rights organizations.

Authorities tagged the priest’s Persecuted Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee, a human rights organization, as a front organization of Maoist and extremist groups.

The Bagaicha, an organization established by Father Swamy to empower the tribal group Adivbasis, was also tagged as a communist front.

Father Swamy is the oldest person in India to face terror-related charges and he has joined 15 others including human rights activists, journalists and scholars arrested in connection to a 2018 incident of caste-based violence known locally as the Bhima Koregaon case.

The priest’s supporters said he is being branded as an anti-nationalist and was jailed because he was fighting for the implementation of laws passed by the parliament for tribal people and their constitutional rights.

Father Swamy was born into a farming family in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. He joined the Jesuits after turning 20. After his ordination, he served as a priest for more than 50 years. – with a report from Frank Krishner / RVA News