By Lisa Zengarini
In an open letter published on India’s Republic Day, 26 January, the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, and Fr Damian Howard SJ, Provincial of the Jesuits in Britain, urge Indian authorities to release Fr. Stan Swamy, SJ on bail, on humanitarian grounds.
They make this plea, “so that he can receive the medical attention he needs and challenge the manifestly unjust charges brought against him.” Fr Swamy suffers from Parkinson’s disease, and requires assistance with eating and dressing.
Reminding Indian officials that the elderly priest “has committed his life to working for the Constitutional rights of the most impoverished and marginalised people in India” and that “many Jesuits have already given their lives in this cause,” the letter stresses that he is now "at grave risk of contracting COVID in an over-crowded prison in Mumbai."
Cardinal Nichols and Fr Howard also point out that UN representatives too have expressed concern about "the arbitrary arrest of Fr Swamy and the way in which the Indian state is seeking to delegitimise his peaceful work for human rights.”
Repeatedly denied bail
Father Swamy was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the federal anti-terror agency, in his residence in Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand State, on 8 October along with other 16 people, on charges of having planned and executed the violence in the Bhima Koregaon area of Maharashtra on 31 December 2017, in which one person was killed and many others injured.
They are also accused of cooperating with outlawed Maoist rebels and conspiring against the State. The charges have been consistently denied by the priest who, in his five-decade-long ministry, has worked for poor tribals (Adivasi) and other impoverished people in Jharkhand and other places. However, he has been denied bail several times as the NIA claims it has serious evidence against him.
Mounting calls for release
Since his arrest many people and Church organizations in India and abroad have appealed for his release, including the Indian Bishops’ Conference (CBCI), the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC), and the Jesuits of India.
The case was brought up during a meeting last week between three Indian Cardinals and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who said that, though he is aware of the situation, the government does not want to interfere in the matter.
Earlier this month, Bishop Declan Lang, chair of the Department for International Affairs of the CBCEW, raised Fr Swamy’s case directly with the UK government.