UN body saddened and disturbed by death of tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, NE bishops mourn

GUWAHATI, 6 Jul: The UN body on human rights on Tuesday said it was deeply saddened and disturbed by the death of 84-year-old rights activist Stan Swamy during his pre-trial detention.

It said that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and the United Nations’ independent experts have repeatedly raised the cases of Swamy, a Jesuit priest, and 15 other human rights defenders with the Indian government over the last three years and urged for their release from detention.

Swamy, who was arrested last year under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in connection with the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case, died at a Mumbai hospital on Monday.

“We are deeply saddened and disturbed by the death of 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy, a human rights defender and Jesuit priest, in Mumbai yesterday, following his arrest in October 2020 under India’s Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act,” Liz Throssell, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said.

“Father Stan had been held in pre-trial detention without bail since his arrest, charged with terrorism-related offences in relation to demonstrations that date back to 2018,” she said in a statement.

Throssell said Swamy was a longstanding activist, particularly on the rights of indigenous people and other marginalized groups.

“High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet and the UN’s independent experts have repeatedly raised the cases of Father Stan and 15 other human rights defenders associated with the same events with the government of India over the past three years and urged their release from pre-trial detention,” she said.

“The high commissioner has also raised concerns over the use of the UAPA in relation to human rights defenders, a law Father Stan was challenging before Indian courts days before he died,” she added.

The North East India Regional Bishops’ Council (NEIRBC) also on Tuesday mourned the death of Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist Stan Swamy.

“We fail to understand why an 84-year-old social worker, greatly weakened by diverse ailments, could not get a bail for a case in which he claimed absolute innocence,” NEIRBC deputy secretary Fr GP Amalraj said in a statement.

It has “shaken the confidence of society in the justice system and tarnished the image of the country” at the international level, Amalraj said.

“May his innocence be established and may more and more young people come forward to dedicate their lives on behalf of the poor,” he said.

The community prays for him and his close relatives while “commending the cause of tribal growth and development to the lord,” Amalraj added. (PTI)