The priest’s work for the rights of tribal people worked against the interests of some people, say bishops
October 11, 2020
A special court in India has remanded Jesuit activist Father Stan Swamy, arrested for his alleged links to outlawed Maoist rebels, to judicial custody until Oct. 23 amid protests in many parts of the country.
Officials of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which probes terrorism-linked activities, arrested the 84-year-old priest on Oct. 8 night from his residence at Bagaicha, a Jesuit social work center in the outskirts of the Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand state.
The arrest was recorded in the NIA base camp in Ranchi on the same night. The priest was then taken to Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra state in western India, and produced before the special NIA court on Oct. 9, church officials said.
The court remanded Father Swamy to judicial custody until Oct. 23 as the investigative agency did not seek his custody for questioning, said Jesuit Father Davis Solomon, a colleague of Father Swamy.
“We are consulting lawyers to move the appropriate court for his bail,” he said.
NIA officials told media that their investigations since August 2018 have established that Father Swamy was actively involved in the Maoist rebels’ activities.
Father Swamy and church officials have consistently denied charges, maintaining that they are fabricated to silence the priest, who has worked for tribal people’s rights.
The priest, whose birth name is Stanislaus Lourdusamy, is accused of being party to a conspiracy that led to a violent clash in Bhima Koregaon Maharashtra state on Jan. 1, 2018, in which one person was killed and several others injured.
The federal agency, established to combat terror within the country, is empowered to conduct raids and arrests in any state as part of a case under its investigation without needing permission from state governments.
Church officials protest
Peaceful protests are going on decrying the jailing of the elderly priest and seeking his release.
Hundreds of tribal people demonstrated on the roads of Ranchi city on Oct. 10, holding placards and shouting slogans seeking the release of the priest who has championed their cause.
Some 2,000 social activists from across the country condemned the priest’s arrest in a statement and said the move was an attack on all those working for human and constitutional rights in Jharkhand.
“Father Swamy is a valued and public-spirited citizen who has worked for Adivasi rights since decades in Jharkhand,” said the statement, released by the Jharkhand Janadhikar Manch, a body of civil society groups in the state.
Church officials in Jharkhand and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India also appealed for the release of the ailing priest, who underwent surgery recently.
“The Church in Ranchi appeals to the conscience and compassion of all concerned authorities and all those who have a say in this matter to release Father Swamy immediately and restore him to his own residence,” said a statement signed by Auxiliary Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas and Sister Punam Soreng, secretary of the Catholic religious of India’s Ranchi unit.
The bishops’ conference in a statement said Father Swamy served “the tribals and the downtrodden” working “to protect their rights … especially their land rights.”
“This could have worked against the interests of certain people,” the bishops said.
“It is difficult to comprehend the plight of an octogenarian with several morbidities” having to undergo “such difficulties during this pandemic” when traveling is a risky even for healthy people.
The bishops appealed to concerned authorities to immediately release Father Swamy and permit him to go to his residence.