New Delhi: A special court on Thursday rejected the interim bail plea filed by 83-year-old Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, arrested in the Elgar Parishad case.
Swamy was arrested on October 8 from Ranchi, Jharkhand by the National Investigation Agency and taken to Mumbai the day after. He had filed an interim bail application on medical grounds, given his age, pre-existing conditions and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Swamy suffers from Parkinson’s disease. His lawyer, Sharif Shaikh, told the court that because of this, Swamy was unable to even sign his vakalatnama when produced before a court, and had to give his thumb impression instead. Shaikh said, according to the Indian Express, that there was no bar on the release of an undertrial on humanitarian grounds or as per the recommendations of the high-powered committee appointed on orders of the Supreme Court to decongest jails.
The NIA had opposed Swamy’s bail plea, saying he was trying to take “advantage of the pandemic” to get out of jail. The agency has used the same argument against others accused in the Elgar Parishad case too, when they applied for bail on medical grounds.
As The Wire has reported before, the NIA did not seek Swamy’s custody after arresting him and instead informed the court that they have a chargesheet ready against Swamy and six other academics and activists arrested in connection with the ongoing Elgar Parishad case. Swamy was eventually sent to judicial custody till October 23.
The NIA has filed an over 10,000 page chargesheet against Swamy, and six others arrested – journalist and activist Gautam Navalakha, academic and civil liberties activist Anand Teltumbde, Delhi University associate officer Hany Babu and three cultural activists of Kabir Kala Manch, Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor and Jyoti Jagtap. This is the third chargesheet in the case, but the first one filed by the NIA.
In a press statement released minutes after the court sent Swamy to judicial custody, the NIA claimed that Swamy is an active cadre of the banned CPI (Maoist) organisation and was allegedly involved actively in its activities. Swamy, the NIA claims, was in communication with other CPI (Maoist) cadres. “He propagated among cadres that the arrest of urban CPI (Maoist) cadres from different parts of the country, particularly in Maharashtra has caused huge irrevocable damage to CPI (Maoist). He received funds from other Maoist cadres for the furtherance of the activities of CPI (Maoist). He is convenor of PPSC (Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee), a frontal organization of CPI (Maoist). The incriminating documents related to communications for furthering the activities of CPI (Maoist) and propaganda material of the CPI (Maoist), as well as literature, were seized from his possession,” the NIA claimed.
Swamy’s arrest has been criticised by non-BJP political leaders and civil society members. Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren and Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan have both expressed their solidarity with the tribal rights activist, and criticised the central agency’s decision to take him into custody. “The way Stan Swamy has been arrested today, it could happen to any of us tomorrow – or it could even escalate further to people being killed,” Soren said at a recent press conference.