New Delhi: Father Stan Swamy’s death in judicial custody will forever remain a stain on India’s human rights record, a UN human rights expert said on Thursday.
Swamy was jailed last October on “fabricated terrorism charges”, and had been subjected to “harassment” and “repeated interrogations”, Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said.
A renowned human rights and social justice advocate for over four decades, Swamy passed away on July 5 at a private hospital in Mumbai, awaiting his bail on medial grounds.
She said Swamy’s case should remind all states that human rights defenders and all those detained without sufficient legal basis, should be released.
“In early November 2020 UN experts joined me in raising his case with the Indian authorities, reminding them of their international human rights obligations. I now ask again why he wasn’t released, and why he had to die in custody?”
His Parkinson’s condition meant he suffered from severe tremors in both hands, and had great difficulty with daily activity such as eating, drinking and washing. He also had severe hearing difficulties, requiring hearing aids in both ears. In November last year, his requests for a drinking straw and sipper and some warm winter clothes were denied. Later, he also contracted COVID-19 in prison.
“There is no excuse, ever, for a human rights defender to be smeared as a terrorist, and no reason they should ever die the way Father Swamy died, accused and detained, and denied his rights,” she stated.
Despite his old age and medical conditions, his bail pleas were repeatedly rejected. The National Investigation Agency submitted since Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) had been invoked against Swamy, he could not be released on temporary bail. The agency said he was taking “undue benefit” of the pandemic.