Jesuit priest and activist Stan Swamy, an accused in the Elgar Parishad-Maoists links case, passed away on Monday at the age of 84, his counsel informed the Bombay High Court when the court took up his bail plea.
Swamy’s lawyers had moved the Bombay High Court on Monday morning, seeking an urgent hearing on his medical bail plea after the octogenarian’s health condition deteriorated on Sunday and he was put on ventilator support.
Swamy, who has been admitted to a private hospital since May, was in the Intensive Care Unit and was put on a ventilator on Sunday after he had difficulty breathing and his oxygen levels were fluctuating, his lawyer Mihir Desai said.
Post-midnight, Desai said Sunday, Swamy’s health condition deteriorated. This, he added, could be a result of long-term post-Covid complications.
Swamy was arrested on October 8 last year and was lodged at Taloja central jail till he was shifted to Holy Family hospital on May 30 following directions from the high court.
In the previous hearings, the court had noted that there were “serious medical issues” after perusing the hospital medical director’s reports on Swamy.
After his death, various international and national leaders expressed dismay at the incident.
Among those who reacted are Eamon Gilmore, the European Union’s Special Representative for Human Rights, and Mary Lawlor, a United Nations Special Rapporteur for human rights defenders.
“The news from India today is devastating. Human Rights Defender and Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy has died in custody, nine months after his arrest on false charges of terrorism. Jailing HRDs is inexcusable," Lawlor said in a tweet.
Gilmore retweeted Lawlor’s post and said: “India: I am very saddened to hear that Father Stan Swamy has passed away. A defender of indigenous peoples’ rights. He was held in detention for the past 9 months. The EU had been raising his case repeatedly with authorities."
India: I am very saddened to hear that Fr #StanSwamy has passed away. A defender of indigenous peoples’ rights. He was held in detention for the past 9 months. The EU had been raising his case repeatedly with authorities. https://t.co/DNpNa1r8cq— Eamon Gilmore (@EamonGilmore) July 5, 2021
Back home, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi expressed condolences Swamy’s death and said he deserved justice and humaneness. PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said a “ruthless and callous government deprived him of dignity and has blood on its hands.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said he was pained and outraged over the death of Father Stan Swamy.
Swami had challenged in the Bombay High Court a provision of the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) dealing with grant of bail, contending it has created an “insurmountable hurdle" for those seeking relief. Swamy said section 43D(5) of the UAPA was violative of the accused person’s fundamental right to life and liberty as guaranteed by the Constitution.
Swamy’s plea stated that presumption of innocence is a fundamental tenet of criminal jurisprudence and when a harsh condition, such as that mentioned above is imposed on grant of bail, even before the trial is conducted, the same “inverts on its head, the principle of presumption of innocence." Desai said the plea also stated that the provision under the UAPA to brand certain organisations as a front for banned or terrorist organisations was bad in law. The UAPA provides for the declaration of an association as unlawful and for the listing of organisations in the first schedule of the Act as terrorist organisations.
Last month, the NIA had filed an affidavit before the HC opposing Swamy’s bail plea. It had said that there did not exist “conclusive proof" of his medical ailments. It alleged that Swamy was a Maoist, who had hatched a conspiracy to create unrest in the country. The Elgar Parishad case is related to inflammatory speeches made at a conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, which, the police claimed, triggered violence the next day near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial located on the outskirts of the western Maharashtra city.
The police had claimed the conclave was organised by people with alleged Maoist links. Swamy, who claims to be suffering from several ailments, including the Parkinson’s disease, had moved the high court earlier this year through advocate Desai, seeking medical treatment and interim bail on health grounds.
The NHRC on Sunday issued a notice to the Maharashtra government in the wake of a complaint alleging serious health condition of the 84-year-old. UN special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor also made an appeal to the government for special treatment to the activist lodged in jail.
“Horrible news to learn that Indian Human Rights Defender Father Stan Swamy is in very serious condition and was put on a ventilator last night. He’s spent 9 months in jail on unfounded charges. I’m deeply saddened and expect that every possible specialist treatment will be provided to him," Lawlor said in a post on Twitter.
Earlier, the NHRC had received a complaint on May 16 that Swamy was being denied medical facility during the COVID-19 period, the rights panel said.
It was also alleged in the complaint that he had not been vaccinated yet and that there was no proper medical care in the jail hospital, it said.
The petitioner has further alleged that the majority of jail staff had tested Covid positive, especially most of the kitchen staff. A number of undertrial prisoners had also contracted the coronavirus and no RT-PCR tests were conducted there, as per the the complaint, the statement said.