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New Delhi: Father Frazer Mascarenhas, an associate of Stan Swamy, has approached the Bombay High Court seeking directions for an enquiry by a judicial magistrate to clear the Jesuit priest of carges that had been invoked against him by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
In a petition filed through senior counsel Mihir Desai on Thursday, Mascarenhas, the former principal of Mumbai’s St Xavier’s College, also sought that the court monitor the judicial inquiry into Swamy’s custodial death. The octagenarian had passed away in July in a private hospital after contracting COVID-19. He was awaiting medical bail.
Last month the Jamshedpur Jesuit Province (JJP) had requested the high court that Mascarenhas be considered as Swamy’s next-of-kin and allowed to challenge observations made by the lower court while rejecting Swamy’s bail plea in the Elgar Parishad case.
A division bench of Justices Nitin Jamdar and Sarang Kotwal had asked the JJP to file a fresh plea while disposing of all pending pleas filed by Swamy.
Earlier, in March 2021, a special court for NIA cases had rejected his bail application. There was prima facie evidence against him in the case, the court had noted.
Swamy then filed an appeal in the HC, but he died before the plea could be decided.
In the fresh plea filed in the high court, Mascarenhas said the NIA court’s observations amounted to preliminary findings of guilt against Swamy and besmirched his reputation.
Had Swamy been alive, he would have had the right to prove his innocence, and his next-of-kin should be given the right to clear his name considering that he died awaiting trial, the petition said.
According to Bar and Bench, the plea sought a declaration from the court to “remove the odium of guilt attached to Swamy assigned to him” by the special NIA court in the order rejecting Swamy’s bail application. “The odium of accusation against Swamy followed him to his grave,” the plea says.
It also urged the high court to monitor the judicial inquiry which is held when a person dies in judicial custody under section 176 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Besides the immediate cause of death, the inquiry must also look into the events that preceded his death, including his worsening health while at Taloja prison and the inadequate health facilities there, it said.
The HC is yet to assign a date for the hearing of the plea.
In the Elgar Parishad case, 16 activists, lawyers, artists and academics have been arrested. The case has been described as a witch hunt of people who have been critical of the Narendra Modi government.
The Wire revealed last week that the phone of one of the accused, activist Rona Wilson, was compromised after it was successfully infected with the Pegasus spyware. In February, The Wire had revealed that Wilson’s laptop was also compromised, and 10 incriminating letters were planted on his computer. These letters are part of the chargesheet filed against the 16 accused of spreading “Maoist ideology” in the country.
(With PTI input)