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Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemned in the strongest terms the deliberate neglect and targeting by the government of India that led to the death of Father Stan Swamy, an 84-year-old Jesuit priest and longtime human rights defender.
“Father Stan Swamy’s death is a stark reminder of the egregious and ongoing persecution of India’s religious minority communities. USCIRF consistently spoke out when Father Swamy was arrested and denied bail, especially considering the rapid deterioration of his health as he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and contracted COVID-19 while in prison, and was not given any support from prison officials,” said USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza. “We urge the United States to hold the Indian government accountable and to raise religious freedom concerns in the U.S.-India bilateral relationship.”
In October 2020, Father Swamy was arrested and charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for suspicion of ties to organizations accused of instigating violence in Maharashtra state in 2018 Government officials used UAPA and other statutes to detain advocates, the media, and academics, including religious minorities.
Father Swamy, who was already suffering from Parkinson’s disease, died of complications in Mumbai on July 5 after contracting COVID-19 in pre-trial detention. Despite international concern and urgent pleas for bail on medical grounds, Indian officials and the courts denied Father Swamy bail and timely medical care.
“USCIRF is deeply saddened and appalled by the death of 84-year-old Jesuit priest Stan Swamy. For years, he fought for the rights and dignity of low-caste and poor people across India,” said USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava. “Father Swamy died in the custody of Indian authorities who targeted him for giving voice to the human rights concerns of Adivasis and other low-caste, religious and poor communities. The Indian government held him for these past months, without any trial or conviction, despite lack of credible evidence on the charges filed against him, his deteriorating health, and global calls for his release.”
In its 2021 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended India for designation as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) for engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. USCIRF’s Annual Report raised concern regarding the closing space for civil society in India during 2020, including the use of the UAPA and other statutes to detain religious minorities.