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Disturbed by Stan Swamy's death, UN rights body calls for release of UAPA detainees

The High Commissioner has also raised concerns over the use of the UAPA in relation to human rights defenders

Tuesday July 6, 2021 10:25 PM, IANS

Stan Swamy Funeral Photos

Mumbai/United Nations: Deeply saddened and disturbed by the death of Father Stan Swamy, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet Tuesday called for the release of all those arrested under UAPA, her Spokesperson Liz Throssell said.

"We are deeply saddened and disturbed by the death of 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy, a human rights defender and Jesuit priest, in Mumbai yesterday, following his arrest in October 2020 under India's Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA)," Throssell said.

Bachelet called for releasing "every person detained without a sufficient legal basis, including those detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views" in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, adding:

"This would be in line with the Indian judiciary's calls to decongest the prisons".

"Bachelet and the UN's independent experts have repeatedly raised the cases of Father Stan and 15 other human rights defenders associated with the same events with the Government of India over the past three years and urged their release from pre-trial detention," Throssell said.

"The High Commissioner has also raised concerns over the use of the UAPA in relation to human rights defenders, a law Father Stan was challenging before Indian courts days before he died," she added.

A Jesuit priest and an activist, Stan Swamy passed away in Mumbai on Wednesday at the age of 84. He was arrested in October 2020 for his alleged involvement in the 2018 Bhima Koregaon Elgar Parishad violence and for his alleged links with the banned terror group Communist Party of India (Maoist), under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

Echoing the same line as that of UN rights body, Human Rights Watch, said that it was "deeply dismayed" by the death of Swamy while in custody.

"This is a man who had for decades served those most marginalised in India. To treat him with such indignity and cruelty exposes the shortcomings in the Indian criminal justice system," HRW said.

"His death follows repeated indignities that were heaped upon him by Indian authorities that failed to accommodate his disabilities due to Parkinson's disease requiring him to have to plead in court for a straw to sip with," it added.

Stan Swamy Funeral

HRW also called for the repeal of UAPA and other "under severe counter-terrorism and sedition laws" because of what it said were their "repeated misuse" and for the government to stop opposing bail for "peaceful activists in jail".

"Modi govt rebuts UN"

The Narendra Modi government on the other hand "strongly rebutted the allegation" leveled by international human rights groups that Father Stan Swamy was detained illegally.

In a statement issued by the government, Arindam Bagchi, the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, said that Stan Swamy was arrested and detained by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) following the "due process under law".

"Because of the "specific nature of the charges against him", his bail applications were rejected by the courts", he said.

"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," the statement said.

"Stan Swamy laid to rest"

Meanwhile, the funeral of Father Stan Lourduswamy, believed to be India’s oldest political prisoner who passed away while in custody, was solemnly performed at a Bandra church in Mumbai on Tuesday afternoon.

Church officials said a special memorial mass was held at the St. Peter's Church, Bandra, but owing to Covid protocols, only 20 mourners were present, besides a large posse of police force outside the church.

However, Catholic volunteers, rights activists and other mourners stood in small groups at intervals, fighting back tears, carrying posters or placards with slogans in support of Swamy and condemning the government.

The entire funeral was also broadcast live on YouTube and other social media platforms.

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