New Delhi: Following increasing criticism from abroad over the death of jailed human rights defender Father Stan Swamy, the Ministry of External Affairs on Tuesday defended that the treatment meted out by Indian authorities was “strictly in accordance with the law”.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Tuesday that it was disturbed by the July 5 death of 84-year-old Swamy, who it noted was in “pre-trial detention without bail since his arrest”.
In a statement, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said on Tuesday night that Swamy had been arrested “following due process under law”.
“Because of the specific nature of charges against him, his bail applications were rejected by the courts. 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,” he said.
The OHCHR had mentioned that Swamy was charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for “terrorism-related offences in relation to demonstrations that date back to 2018”.
Stressing on the crushing deterioration of Swamy’s health while in jail, where he also contracted COVID-19, the UN body repeated its call, once again, to the Government of India to ensure that no one is “detained for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association”.
The MEA stated that due to Swamy’s ailing health, the Bombay high court allowed his medical treatment at a private hospital “where he was receiving all possible medical attention since May 28”.
Swamy’s lawyers had been petitioning authorities saying that Swamy, who had tested positive for COVID-19, had been denied medical facilities in jail.
Also suffering from Parkinson’s disease, Swamy had difficulty in sipping water from a glass, but he had been initially denied a sipper in prison and had to petition court over it.
The activist had also informed high court that his mental and physical health had declined steadily in jail.
As reported by The Wire, Taloja central prison failed to provide adequate medical treatment to Swamy, and his health had deteriorated considerably by the time he was moved out to a hospital.
“His health and medical treatment was being closely monitored by the courts. He passed away on July 5 following medical complications,” said Bagchi.
The MEA spokesperson also claimed that “India’s democratic and constitutional polity is complemented by an independent judiciary, a range of national and state-level Human Rights Commissions that monitor violations, a free media and a vibrant and vocal civil society”.
“India remains committed to promotion and protection of human rights of all its citizens,” Bagchi concluded.
In addition to OHCHR, Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, also tweeted on Swamy’s death, calling the news “devastating”.
The European Union’s Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore, also noted that the EU had been raising this case repeatedly.
Germany’s Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance, Bärbel Kofler also said that she was “deeply saddened” by Swamy’s death. “I met him on my travels to India in 2018, his fight for the Adivasi, marginalised groups and against poverty inspired me greatly and was a comfort to many,” she tweeted.
Kofler had also previously called for Swamy’s release on humanitarian grounds. “It is difficult to understand why, at over 84 years of age and with severe health problems, he had to spend the last nine months of his life in prison,” she wrote.