USCIRF condemns death of Jesuit priest imprisoned in India

India rejects criticism saying it remains committed to protection of human rights of all its citizens

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has strongly condemned alleged “deliberate neglect” by the government of India that led to the death of Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy.

Longtime human rights defender, Swamy, 84, who was arrested in October 2020 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) on suspicion of ties to organizations accused of instigating violence in Maharashtra state in 2018, died at a Mumbai hospital on Monday.

“Father Stan Swamy’s death is a stark reminder of the egregious and ongoing persecution of India’s religious minority communities,” said USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza, in a press release.

Read: Jailed to die: Father Stan Swamy’s legacy will live on (July 6, 2021)

“USCIRF consistently spoke out when Father Swamy was arrested and denied bail, especially considering the rapid deterioration of his health as he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and contracted Covid-19 while in prison, and was not given any support from prison officials,” she said.

USCIRF urged “the United States to hold the Indian government accountable and to raise religious freedom concerns in the US-India bilateral relationship.”

“USCIRF is deeply saddened and appalled by the death of 84-year-old Jesuit priest Stan Swamy. For years, he fought for the rights and dignity of low-caste and poor people across India,” said USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava.

“Father Swamy died in the custody of Indian authorities who targeted him for giving voice to the human rights concerns of Adivasis and other low-caste, religious and poor communities,” she said.

Read: USCIRF places India among 14 ‘countries of particular concern’ (April 21, 2021)

“The Indian government held him for these past months, without any trial or conviction, despite lack of credible evidence on the charges filed against him, his deteriorating health, and global calls for his release,” Bhargava said.

“Despite international concern and urgent pleas for bail on medical grounds, Indian officials and the courts denied Father Swamy bail and timely medical care,” USCIRF alleged.

Meanwhile, India has rejected international criticism over the handling of the Swamy case saying authorities in India act against violations of law and do not restrain the legitimate exercise of rights.

“India remains committed to the promotion and protection of the human rights of all its citizens and that the country’s democratic polity is complemented by an independent judiciary and a range of national and state-level human rights commissions,” the Indian External Affairs Ministry stated Tuesday.

“Swamy was arrested and detained by the National Investigation Agency following due process under the law. Because of the specific nature of charges against him, his bail applications were rejected by the courts,” it said in a statement in New Delhi.

Read: USCIRF says India is among worst violators of religious freedom (April 28, 2020)

“Authorities in India act against violations of law and not against legitimate exercise of rights. All such actions are strictly in accordance with the law.”

It said Swamy was receiving all possible medical attention at a private hospital where he was admitted since May 28. His health and medical treatment were being closely monitored by the courts. He passed away on July 5 following medical complications.

‘India remains committed to promotion and protection of human rights of all its citizens,” the ministry said.

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