Anger and Silence Over Revelations Indicating Father Stan Swamy Was Framed
The 84-year-old Jesuit priest died in 2021 in a Mumbai jail where he was awaiting trial on terrorism charges triggered by files that were planted by hackers on his computer, according to a digital forensic analysis of the computer.
MUMBAI, India — The outcry for posthumous justice for Jesuit Father Stan Swamy, who died in detention on apparently fabricated terrorism charges in July 2021, continues to reverberate in India.
The latest outcry was sparked by findings in December by Arsenal Consulting, a U.S.-based computer forensics company, that “incriminating files” were planted in the computer of the octogenarian social justice advocate by hackers, who appear to have acted in tandem with Indian intelligence agencies that soon afterward raided and arrested him.
“We request [an] expeditious … and independent investigation into the whole affair,” in order that “all the shadows of doubts could be removed, truth can come to light and the guilty be punished,” Father Swamys supporters said after their Dec. 21 meeting at Ranchi, the capital of the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, in a memorandum to Indian President Droupadi Murmu.
The plea came from more than 50 social activists and concerned citizens participating in the Shahid Stan Swami Nyaya Morcha (Forum for Justice for Martyr Stan Swamy), who gathered at the Bagicha social action center founded by the Jesuit priest, in the wake of Arsenal Computing’s findings.
Their memorandum urged the Indian president “to direct further investigation into the Bhima-Koregaon Case in the light of latest findings by Arsenal Consulting alleging serious maneuvering of evidence especially in the electronic devices of the accused human rights activist in the aforementioned case.”
As the Register reported at the time of Father Swamy’s arrest in October 2020, the priest, who championed the rights of oppressed tribal indigenous peoples, was detained along with 15 other human-rights activists, academics and lawyers on terrorism charges related to the “Bhima Koregaon conspiracy.” The controversial arrests, carried out on the grounds that the social justice advocates allegedly were all associated with a banned Maoist organization, provoked world-wide condemnations, including a posthumous resolution honoring Father Swamy’s life and work in the U.S. Congress in July 2022.
“Everyone at the meeting was anguished about denial of justice for Father Stan, who dedicated his life for the poor and died branded as a terrorist,” Jesuit Father P.M. Antony, director of the Bagicha Center, told the Register after the Dec. 21 meeting.
Arsenal Consultation’s findings documented how hackers compromised Father Swamys computer beginning in 2014 in order to monitor it and plant incriminating files, and highlighted how they sought to eradicate the digital evidence of their activities one day before the computer was seized by government authorities on June 12, 2019. Their release has provoked a broad chorus of protest condemning the detention of the Jesuit priest and his subsequent death in custody, and demands for action against those who branded him as a terrorist.
“Why truth has become so bitter, dissent so intolerable, justice so out of reach [for] Stan Swamy?” asked Jesuit Father Joseph Xavier, convenor of the Father Stan Swamy Legacy Committee’ of the Jesuits in India, in a statement.
“In addition to surveillance, digital files were planted on Father Stan’s hard drive across two hacking campaigns starting in July 2017 and continuing till June 2019. Over 50 files were created on Father Stan’s hard drive, including incriminating documents that fabricated links between Father Stan and the Maoist insurgency,” Father Xavier’s statement claimed.
“The final incriminating document was planted on Father Stan’s computer on June 5, 2019, a week before the raid on Father Stan,” it said. “It was on the basis of these documents that Father Stan was first arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case, in spite of experts raising serious doubts about the authenticity of the documents.”
“Until his death, Father Stan was insisting that he is an innocent, saying firmly and categorically that all the documents shown by the investigating agency were unknown to him,” Father A. Santhanam, lawyer-convener of the National Lawyers Forum of Religious and Priests, told the Register.
“The government and its agency should take full responsibility for Stan Swamy’s unjust arrest, inhuman incarceration and untimely custodial death,” the lawyer priest added.
Meanwhile, some Catholics have floated on social media the request that the Jesuit, who they say died a martyr for justice in illegal detention, should be considered a saint and that Church leadership consequently initiate a cause for canonization.
“But prior to that, the Church hierarchy in India should demand accountability from the regime and take the matter to the international forum,” responded John Dayal, outspoken Catholic activist and columnist.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) did not respond to repeated requests by the Register for reaction to the Arsenal revelations.
Though Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, elected CBCI president at its biennial assembly in Bangalore in November, called on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his office in New Delhi on Dec. 21, the issue of Father Swami did not figure in the “non-political” discussion.
“This is tragic silence,” Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash, who has been frequently pressing for justice for Father Swamy, told the Register.
“When we give up fighting, we have lost the battle. Then, what about the voiceless?” asked Father Prakash, who had his own office broken into and computers taken away when he was in the forefront of a protest campaign against the 2002 violence undertaken against Muslims, at a time when Modi was the Chief Minister of western Gujarat state.
The Modi-led BJP government, Father Prakash said, has been trying “to intimidate and demoralize critics by setting government agencies to raid and foist all sorts of cases. Father Stan was such a victim.”
Others Remain in Jail
“The same findings were given some months ago by the same company about others in prison,” Auxiliary Bishop Allwyn D’Silva of Mumbai, whose nephew Arun Pereira is also under detention in the same “Bhima Koregaon” case, told the Register with respect to Arsenal Consulting’s conclusions with respect to Father Swami.
Said Bishop D’Silva, “We were pained when neighbors started describing him as a ‘terrorist’ soon after his arrest without trying to find out the reality.”