Asian Bishops Back Jailed Jesuit

News: World News
by Fabian Gomes  •  •  November 5, 2020   

Oldest Indian ever accused of terrorism

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MUMBAI, India ( - Asia's bishops are calling for the release of an 83-year-old Jesuit priest jailed in India.

The Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) is supporting Fr. Stan Swamy S.J., the oldest person to ever be accused of terrorism in India. The president of FABC, Cdl. Charles Bo of Yangon, Myanmar, condemned the arrest in a statement issued on Monday.

Cdl. Charles Bo of Yangon

"It is with great shock and agony the FABC heard of the arrest of the 84-year-old Father Swamy and his incarceration, and we are surprised at the charges brought against him," declared Bo.

"We do hope its leaders will show sagacity and magnanimity in appreciating the services of Fr. Swamy and other indigenous peoples' leaders, releasing them as free citizens of India," he added.

The priest activist and defender of tribal rights, Swamy, was arrested by the security forces of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and transferred Oct. 8 to prison in Mumbai, where he remains.

Communist or Fighter for the Marginalized?

The NIA, which took over the investigation into the Bhima Koregaon case — an investigation of violence at an Indian celebratory gathering — alleges that all the accused have links with the banned Communist Party of India, the Maoist CPI. Arrests have been made in the case since 2018 — so far 16, including an activist-lawyer.

In a statement given two days before the NIA took him into custody, however, Swamy said he had challenged the "indiscriminate" arrests of thousands of young, indigenous Adivasis with investigating agencies labeling them as "Naxals." Swamy had filed a public interest petition against the State in the High Court, asking for all such prisoners under trial to be released on a personal bond and for the conduct of a speedy trial.

He had also sought the appointment of a judicial commission to investigate the reasons for delays in the trial process. He has spent more than 40 years advocating for the rights of the marginalized, particularly of tribal people.

Swamy had filed a public interest petition against the State in the High Court.

Swamy's statement says that his work involved expressing dissent with several policies of the government and laws enacted in violation of the constitution.

The statement said, "This, I believe, is the main reason why the state is keen to put me out of the way. The most feasible way is to implicate me in serious cases and stall the judicial process to give justice to the poor, innocent tribal."

Swamy has also denied allegations of Maoist links and said in the video that he has never been to Bhima Koregaon.

"I would just add that what is happening to me is not unique. Many activists, lawyers, writers, journalists, student leaders, poets, intellectuals and others who stand for the rights of tribal, Dalits and the marginalized and express their dissent to the ruling powers of the country are being targeted," he said.

(Marxist) Christians Targeted

There are two aspects to this tragic story. On the one hand, there is a degree of vendetta against Christians from the militant Hindu Modi government. Tribals have been oppressed for a long time and the Jesuits are doing a terrific job fighting it. On the other hand, the Indian Jesuits have largely adopted the ideology and the methodology of Marxism. This has resulted in direct or indirect links — or at least sympathies — with Marxist, Maoist and Naxalite groups who also claim to be fighting for the liberation of the tribals and Dalits in different parts of India.

Fr. Swamy describes political issues related to his arrest

Indian intelligence has been keeping a close watch on the Jesuit Indian Social Institute in India, which is ideologically Marxist. If Fr. Stan is indeed innocent of any Maoist involvement, the wider links of the Jesuits with Marxist movements is hurting his cause.

On the other hand, Christians, political and human rights leaders and other faith minorities are demanding the immediate release of the activist Swamy and withdrawal of all charges against him.

After the arrest Swamy, Abp. Felix Machado, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), issued the following press release:

Fr. Stan has for decades been working to protect the rights of the Adivasis, especially their land rights. This could have worked against the interests of certain people. When questioned by authorities during the months of July–August 2020, Fr. Stan Swamy has fully cooperated with investigating agencies and has provided detailed statements, claiming to be innocent in the case.

"It is difficult to comprehend the plight of an octogenarian with several morbidities, like Fr. Stan Swamy, to have to undergo such difficulties during this pandemic in which even a normal, healthy person would hesitate to travel or would never travel risking one's life," Machado continued.

He further urged officials to release Swamy:

The CBCI makes a strong appeal to the concerned authorities to immediately release Fr. Stan Swamy and to permit him to go to his residence. The Catholic community has always been lauded by all as body of loyal, law abiding and service-minded citizens of Mother India. The community has always been contributing to nation-building and continues to collaborate with the government in working for the common good of all Indians and the progress of our nation.

People's Union for Civil Liberties, a human rights body, organized a virtual press conference Oct. 21 to condemn the illegal arrest of Swamy and the 15 other activists arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case.

Other 'Political Targets' Ahead?

Jharkhand's Chief Minister, Hemant Soren, acknowledged Swamy's work for decades with the tribal and marginalized persons in Jharkhand and strongly condemned his arrest. He further asserted that others could become political targets.

Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren

Soren warned, "Today, it is the issue of Stan Swamy, tomorrow it will be your turn, then it will be our turn. Tomorrow it will be your state, today it is our state."

Soren strongly spoke against the attacks on the values of federalism. He gave the example of the recent auction of coal blocks without any consultations with the state government. He appealed to all political parties to come together and oppose the growing attacks by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government on civil liberties, federalism and democracy itself.

Health Issues Cited

Newton Biswas, a Jesuit seminarian, told Church Militant they are worried about Swamy's health issues.

"Fr. Stan is suffering from various physical problems," noted Biswas. "In this situation, his arrest is not acceptable. Police have been doing an investigation, and if Fr. Stan had been guilty at that time, he would have been arrested."

On Oct. 23, NIA court rejected Swamy's bail plea. The Hindu, the Indian daily newspaper, reported that advocates Sharif Shaikh and Kritika Agarwal applied for bail, saying the frail priest — who has Parkinson's disease and has almost lost hearing in both ears — has fallen several times while in custody. Due to his illness, Swamy was not even able to sign court documents and had to use his fingerprint.

Shaikh sought bail on humanitarian grounds under a provision by the Supreme Court to release prisoners in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. NIA, the federal agency that is charged with combatting terrorist activities, rejected the bail plea Oct. 23, saying Swamy was taking undue advantage of the pandemic. The Jesuit has since been shifted to the prison's hospital, The Hindu reported.

Shaikh sought bail on humanitarian grounds under a provision by the Supreme Court to release prisoners in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, Fr. Timothy Kesicki, S.J., wrote Oct. 20 to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, asking for his intervention.

"We ask that the United States strongly condemn the incarceration of Fr. Stan Swamy, ask the Indian government to ensure his immediate release, and ask it to refrain from arbitrary arrests of innocent citizens," wrote Kesicki.

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