On 26 November, the NIA Court in Mumbai, rejected the request for a straw, a sipper bottle and warm clothes for 83-year old Jesuit priest and human rights defender Fr. Stan Swamy who has been lodged in the Taloja jail on trumped up charges in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon case. In wake of this, Front Line Defenders, an organisation that works globally to seek protections for activists and human rights defenders, has demanded that Fr. Stan be moved to a private hospital equipped to provide necessary medical treatment. They have further demanded that all charges against him be dropped.
“Front Line Defenders is seriously concerned about the health of Stan Swamy and urges concerned authorities to ensure that he is provided with essential resources and is moved to a private hospital,” said FLD in a press statement.
Fr. Stan suffers from Parkinson’s disease and thus requires a straw or a sipper bottle to drink, as his hands shake, making it impossible for him to hold a glass or a cup. Apart from Parkinson’s, the Jesuit priest also has trouble hearing, has fallen in jail multiple times and has had two hernia operations.
During the court hearing, the NIA told the special court that they did not have the requested items to Swamy and asked the court for 20 days to respond to his request. The Judge directed a medical officer to respond to the requirement of requested items on December 5.
The Front Line Defenders found this decision alarming in the context of global and national moves to reduce congestion in prisons, as well as the Supreme Court’s directives in this regard. Moreover, the NIA Court on October 22 denied his interim bail plea submitted on medical grounds.
The organisation also raised concerns about the health and safety of similarly incarcerated human rights defenders, who by virtue of age and pre-existing health conditions, are at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Swamy, who was arrested on October 8 and kept in Mumbai’s Taloja Jail, is among fifteen other human rights defenders arrested over the past two years for alleged involvement in the Bhima Koregaon violence on January 1, 2018.
In the statement, members expressed belief that the charges against all these people are solely motivated by their legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights.
Fr. Stan Swamy is a human rights defender in Jharkhand, who defends the rights of indigenous people. He is the founder of the Vistapan Virodhi Janvikash Andolan, an all-India platform that works to secure and protect land rights of Dalit and Adivasi people. Fr. Stan has been a prominent advocate against the enforced displacement of Adivasi communities, which typically occurs for development purposes or for mining mineral rich lands.