Indian Jesuit Remains in Jail, Despite Call for Release From Asian Bishops and International Groups
In a video posted to social media prior to his arrest, Fr. Swamy said that because of his history of activism, the state “wanted to put me out of the way, and one easy way [to do that] was to implicate me in some serious cases.”
WASHINGTON — A Jesuit priest arrested in India on charges of sedition will remain in jail for at least another two weeks, after the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences has called for his release, along with other international organizations.
Jesuit Fr. Stan Swamy, was arrested Oct. 8 by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s counter-terrorism task force. The 83-year-old priest is accused of being involved with a Maoist group, and inciting violence in the town of Bhima-Koregaon on January 1, 2018. One person was killed and others injured during mob violence that day.
Fr. Swamy denies all charges and says that he has never even been to Bhima-Koregaon. The priest is the co-founder of the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee, an organization that assists those who are being held in prison but have not been yet been convicted of a crime, and are still undergoing a trial. It is estimated that 70% of India’s prison population is in this category.
On Oct. 26, the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) issued a statement in support of Fr. Swany, and calling for his release "It is with great shock and agony the FABC heard of the arrest of the 84-year-old Father Swamy and his incarceration and we are surprised at the charges brought against him,” Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, Burma, the president of the FABC, said in a statement on October 26.
“The arrest and cold-hearted incarceration of Father Swamy reminds us of the treatment meted out to Mahatma Gandhi when he stood up for the rights of the Indian people,” said Bo.
In a video posted to social media prior to his arrest, Fr. Swamy described being interrogated for 15 hours by the NIA. He said that because of his history of activism, the state “wanted to put me out of the way, and one easy way [to do that] was to implicate me in some serious cases.”
Fr. Swamy said he was “raided twice” by authorities who “put before me certain extracts, supposedly taken from my computer, extracts which showed Maoists were communicating with each other, and in some extracts even my name was mentioned,” he said. Fr. Swamy said that authorities were unable to tell him who sent the emails, who received the emails, on which date the emails were sent, and if there was any sort of signature on the emails.
“So I just denied and disowned every single extract that was put before me, except one,” which he said was a message from him and the co-founder of the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee to other human rights organizations in India. That letter explained the purpose of their organization and requested that other groups join them in their efforts.
“What is happening to me is not something unique happening to me alone,” he said. “It is part of a broader process that is taking place all over the country.”
Fr. Swany said it is common knowledge that figures from all walks of life--from lawyers to student leaders--are jailed for expressing dissent or questioning “the ruling powers of India.” The priest said he was “ready to pay the price, whatever be it.”
Following his arrest on Oct. 8, Fr. Swany was flown from his home in the city of Ranchi, located in the eastern state of Jharkhand, to Mumbai, for additional questioning. In the video posted prior to his arrest, Swany said that he was apprehensive about going to Mumbai as he is elderly and infirm, and did not want to be exposed to the coronavirus. Fr. Swany has Parkinson’s Disease and is hard of hearing.
Fr. Swany has been jailed in Mumbai ever since, and was denied bail on October 23. He has since reportedly been transferred to a prison hospital.
Both religious and secular organizations have called for Fr. Swany’s release from jail.
Jesuit provincials and leaders from across the world have issued statements requesting that the Indian government release Fr. Swany.
“We ask that the United States strongly condemn the incarceration of Fr Stan Swamy, ask the Indian Government to ensure his immediate release, and ask it to refrain from arbitrary arrests of innocent citizens,” said Fr. Timothy P. Kesicki, in an October 20 letter addressed to Sec. of State Mike Pompeo on behalf of Jesuits from the United States.
Throughout India, thousands have gathered to peacefully protest for Fr. Swany’s release. Vatican News reported that on October 16, over 1,000 people, including priests, nuns, an archbishop, and an auxiliary bishop, formed a 3.2 mile human chain in Ranchi as a protest.
On October 20, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet issued a statement to the Indian government condemning the “vaguely defined laws” that are “increasingly being used to stifle” those who speak up against injustices.
The press release issued by the Office of the High Commissioner mentioned Fr. Swany by name.
"I urge the Government to ensure that no one else is detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly – and to do its utmost, in law and policy, to protect India's robust civil society," said Bachelet.