Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has come in for severe criticism from international human rights organisations following the death of the tribal activist and Jesuit priest Stan Swamy. What is more, questions are being raised about “false terrorism charges,’’ by Nadine Maenza, chief of the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
The UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner tweeted soon after news of his death came in, “India: We are saddened and disturbed by the death of 84-year-old human rights defender Stan Swamy, after prolonged pre-trial detention. With covid-19, it is even more urgent that states release every person detained without sufficient legal basis.’’
#India: We are saddened & disturbed by the death of 84-year-old human rights defender Father #StanSwamy, after prolonged pre-trial detention. With COVID-19, it is even more urgent that States release every person detained without sufficient legal basis.— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) July 6, 2021
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High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet and the UN’s independent experts have repeatedly raised the cases of Father Stan and 15 other human rights defenders for the past three years, a press statement by the office of the Human Rights Commissioner’s Office said. “No one should be detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association.’’
The circumstances of Stan Swamy’s death, the negligence of the jail authorities and the Mumbai High Court’s decision not to grant bail to an old man despite his serious health conditions have shocked human right defenders. India’s flaunting of its liberal values and its democratic traditions sound hollow now. Democracy after all is much more than holding elections every five years. It implies transparency and upholds the dignity of every individual. Granted that beyond issuing statements nothing much can be done, yet it is a mighty blow to India’s reputation as a moral force in the world and a shining example of democracy at work. Ironically last month India signed on to the G7 Open Soc Memorandum in the Cornwall Summit.
Mary Lawlor the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights tweeted soon after news of his death was flashed : "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 (human rights defenders) is inexcusable."
The news from #India today is devastating. Human Rights Defender & Jesuit priest Fr Stan Swamy has died in custody, nine months after his arrest on false charges of terrorism. Jailing HRDs is inexcusable. He explains his work here: https://t.co/kKPhM6IaHu pic.twitter.com/YoEpst0ol2— Mary Lawlor UN Special Rapporteur HRDs (@MaryLawlorhrds) July 5, 2021
Meanwhile, EU Special Representative for Human Rights Eamon Gilmore tweeted, "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 nine months," while adding that 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
Nadine Maenza of USCIRF tweeted: “Hearbreaking: death of Indian prisoner Father Stan Swamy after he got COVID. He was elderly priest and human rights activist imprisoned on false terrorism charges. @USCIRF``We spoke out against his arrest and when he was denied bail as his health deteriorated.’’
Heartbreaking: death of Indian prisoner Father Stan Swamy after he got COVID. He was elderly priest & human rights activist imprisoned on false terrorism charges.@USCIRF spoke out against his arrest & when he was denied bail as his health deteriorated. https://t.co/SIiXqn9Nz6— Nadine Maenza (@nadinemaenza) July 5, 2021
The USCIRF has already downgraded India on the quality of its human rights and has petitioned the US State Government to sanction some officers who framed the CAA and enforced the lockdown in Kashmir.
Responding to these developments, the ministry of external affairs on Tuesday said that Swamy was arrested following due process under law.
“Authorities in India act against violations of law and not against legitimate exercise of rights. India’s democratic and constitutional polity is complemented by independent judiciary, range of human rights bodies. India remains committed to promotion and protection of human rights of all its citizens,” the MEA said.
This is not the first time that India’s actions have come under the scanner of the UN. Earlier, India was called out for the ban on internet and mobile services for the longest time following the scrapping of Kashmir’s special status in August 2019. The jailing of CAA activists were also flagged.
Further, in the past the MEA had fobbed off allegations on India’s human rights record as “uninformed”.