In India, Jesuit accused of Maoist conspiracy dies in custody

During a protest calling for the release of tribal rights activist Stan Swamy in Bangalore, India on November 12, 2020. AIJAZ RAHIA / AP

Accused without proof of a “Maoist conspiracy” and of having participated in the organization of the clashes of the 1is January 2018 between low castes and high castes in the city of Koregaon, in western India, the Jesuit father Stan Swamy died of a lung infection in preventive detention, Monday, July 5.

Aged 84, this priest who has been dedicated to defending the rights of tribal populations in Jharkhand, a forest region in the east of the country since 1991, contracted Covid-19 in prison. Incarcerated since October 9, 2020 in Taloja prison, in the suburbs of Bombay, he had to wait ten days to obtain authorization to be evacuated to a hospital.

Finally admitted on May 29 to the Holy Family clinic in Bombay, he saw his health deteriorate rapidly. Doctors say the old man from Tamil Nadu was placed on artificial respiration on Sunday morning following a cardiac arrest. He passed away on Monday at the very beginning of the afternoon.

At the same time, his lawyers were pleading for his release on bail in the Bombay High Court, which expected to wait until July 13 to hear him. The magistrates in charge of his case took all their time and demanded to obtain “In a sealed envelope” a medical report on his state of health.

“Murder in custody”

On the news of Stan Swamy’s death, opposition leader in the Modi government, Rahul Gandhi, posted his condolences on Twitter, saying the Jesuit “Deserved justice and humanity”, rather than such a humiliating ending. “The responsibilities for this murder in detention must be established”, declared on the social network the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Sitaram Yechury, who said he was “Outraged by the death of this militant who tirelessly helped the marginalized”.

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Hemant Soren, head of the regional executive of Jharkhand, for his part considers that the Modi government “Should be held responsible for absolute apathy” of which the Jesuit was a victim by the prison authorities. As early as December 2020, Stan Swamy had denounced his conditions of imprisonment. “Ironically, he died without having been tried, after having spent his life fighting against the preventive detentions which hit the little people involved in fabricated cases”, says Peter Martin, a lawyer who worked alongside him for the same cause.

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