Call for signatures – An Appeal for the release on bail to Fr. Stan Swamy SJ, Indian Jesuit, a human rights defender

Dear Readers,
By now you may be familiar with the case of Fr. Stan Swamy, an 83 years old Indian Jesuit priest incarcerated for alleged anti-national activities. He was arrested on October 8, 2020. The antecedents of this case can be traced back to 1 January 2018 violence against the Dalits across the state of Maharashtra. One Dalit youth was killed and countless of number of Dalits injured. Even though all evidence pointed to the role of right-wing leaders in the violence that erupted after the annual celebration at Bhima Koregaon, the state thought it convenient to foist false cases against human rights defenders who are known to stand up for the poor.

15 others have been incarcerated for the same alleged violations of the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The state alleges that all these 16 persons are working in tandem with the bannedMaoist party that wants to overthrow the elected government.

It is common knowledge that these allegations are foisted by the present Ultra-nationalist, right-wing Hindu fundamentalist government. Ever since the party came to power in 2014 it has used various pillars of governance and the media to put down all dissent against its anti-poor, anti-minority, pro-crony capitalist policies.

Fr. Stan is best known for his long years of work on behalf of India’s poorest by becoming one like them andleading their struggles in a non-violent way making use of all the legal instruments to redress the violence against them and reclaim their livelihoods for them. The other 15 co-accused are all eminent human rights defenders known for their dedicated and courageous work in defence of the rights of the poor. Some of the accused like Varavara Rao are seriously sick and advanced in age. Yet a callous government is relentless in its vindictive pursuit of these human right defenders. To give but one example, it took the government all of 30 days to grant permission for jail authorities to provide a sipper to Fr. Stan, who suffers from debilitating Parkinson’s decease. Their appeal for bail has been consistently denied by the state.

OHCHR has already taken note of the situation and has appealed to the government of India to honour its obligations under International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These interventions so far have not brought any relief for the accused.

We request your solidarity if signing the ATTACHED APPEAL that is again being sent to OHCHR and to related special rapporteurs and to the government of India. You are welcome to sign in your individual capacity or on behalf of the organization that you represent.

Kindly circulate it widely among your friends and colleagues for wider reach.

Last day to gather the signatures: January 6, 2021.

Concerned Persons and Organizations in USA

An Appeal for the release on bail to Fr. Stan Swamy SJ and others

H.E. Michelle Bachelet
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Dear H.E. Michelle Bachelet

We, the concerned persons/organizations are writing on behalf of human rights defenders, journalists and academicians, incarcerated under the draconian law, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, amended 7 times, the latest in July 2019, which denies bail to the accused.

The United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/RES/153/144 on Human Rights Defenders states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedom at national and international levels” (Art.1).i It asks the States to respect human rights defenders on a nondiscriminatory basis, protect them against any arbitrary action as a consequence of the
legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the Declaration, and ensure access to effective remedies in the case of violations and prompt and impartial investigations of alleged violations.

On October 8, 2020, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s anti-terrorism task force arrested Fr. Stan Swamy, an 83-year-old Jesuit priest, from his residence in Ranchi, Jharkhand State, India and took him to Mumbai, Maharashtra. On October 9, 2020 he was sent to judicial custody and currently is jailed at Taloja prison hospital. His bail application, based on his fragile health conditions – Parkinson’s disease and loss of hearing in both ears, and other ailments was denied on October 22, 2020.

The NIA accuses Stan Swamy and 15 others already arrested for alleged personal links with the banned extremist groups of Maoists and Naxalites, in relation to the Elgar Parishad event that preceded violence between Dalits and Marathas in Bhima Koregaon, Pune, Maharashtra State, on 1 January 2018. He is the latest among the 16 people arrested including well-known rights defenders Arun Ferreira and Sudha Bharadwaj, both lawyers, and Vernon Gonsalvez and Varavara Rao, both writers. Others incarcerated under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) are Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson, Gautam Navalka, Anand Teltumbde, Hanny Babu. Most of them have been held without trial for over two years. Varavara Rao, 80 years old is extremely sick.

Fr. Stan, a human rights defender primarily worked with the Adivasis (Indigenous community) for decades for the defense, propagation, and protection of their rights as enshrined in the Constitution of India. Fr. Swamy vehemently denies the accusations of being linked to extremist groups that allegedly to have sparked violence in a distant place (about 1000 miles), where he has never been to. He strongly believes he has been targeted for his stance against police atrocities against vulnerable Adivasis and advocacy on indigenous rights and work with indigenous groups. He has exposed large-scale abuse of power and land grabbing without due process using anti-terror and sedition laws. He also documented and published on how hundreds of Adivasi youth were falsely implicated and imprisoned for exercising their right to defend their resources.

We are gravely concerned about Stan Swamy’s health and ability to care for himself. He is unable to take a drink without a straw. While being admitted to the jail his straw and sipper cup were confiscated. His petition for a straw and sipper filed before a special court on November 6, 2020 allowed the NIA 20 days to respond to a humane request, who ultimately denied the confiscation and failed to supply the requested items to help Stan Swamy live with dignity though now it has been provided by the jail authorities, it was a denial of his rights. It is certainly a denial of his right as an older person. Article 15.2. of the Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities, that India has ratified, states that the States Parties shall take all effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent persons with disabilities, on an equal basis with others, from being subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.ii

We appreciate your statement on 20 October 2020, appealing the Government of India to safeguard the rights of human rights defenders. Citing the arrest of Fr. Stan Swamy, you expressed concern over the arrests of those exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and urged the authorities to release people charged under UAPA, a law which has also been widely criticized for its lack of conformity with international human rights standards.

“Right to Reputation is an intrinsic part of fundamental right to life with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. However, under the UAPA Act, amended in July 2019, an individual is termed as a ‘terrorist’ prior to the trial, and the burden of proof is on the accused. Data from the National Crime Record Bureau 1,226 cases were registered in 2019, compared to 1,182 in 2018 and 901 in 2017. While there were 34 convictions, 16 people were discharged, and 92 people were acquitted.iii One of the accused Arun Fereira, who is charged and arrested under UAPA, was earlier acquitted in another case, after being jailed for many years. It is also important to dispose of these cases through speedy trials. We appeal to you and request your interventions for:

  1. Release of Stan Swamy, Varavara Rao and others on bail
  2. A speedy fair trial, to dispose of the case without any delay
  3. Review and repeal of the sections of the UAPA that contravene the right to life and
    freedom of speech.
    Cc ;
  4. Assistant Secretary-General, OHCHR in New York, UN Headquarters, New York, NY
    10017, USA
  5. Mr. Francisco Cali Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, OHCHRUNOG,
    8-14 Avenue de la Paix, 1211 Geneve 10, Switzerland.
  6. Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, OHCHRUNOG,
    CH 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland. –
  7. Ms. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection oh human
    Rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, OHCHR-UNOG, CH 1211
    Geneva 10, Switzerland.
  8. H. E. Ajay Kumar Bhalla, Home secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, North Block, New Delhi –
    110001, India.
  9. H. E. T. S. Tirumurti, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, 235
    East, 43rd Street, [between 2nd and 3rd Avenue], New York 10017.
  10. H.E. Mr. Ajit Kumar, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of India to United Nations
    Offices in Geneva, Permanent Mission of India to the UN in Geneva, 9 Rue du Valais, Geneva
  11. Mr. Pawankumar, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of India to the UN in Geneva, 9 Rue du
    Valais, Geneva 1202