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EU, UN officials saddened by death of activist Stan Swamy in India

The death of Indian human rights activist and Jesuit priest Stan Swamy’s death in custody evoked strong reactions from the EU and UN’s special rapporteurs.

Dublin-based UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, said on Twitter that the news of Swamy’s death on charges of terrorism was “devastating,” as she posted a video link of the activist’s work for the indigenous communities. “Jailing HRDs (Human Rights Defenders) is inexcusable,” said Lowlor.

In another tweet on Sunday, she had expressed “deep sadness” that Swamy was in serious condition in the hospital and expressed hope he would be given “every possible specialist treatment.”

Last November, Lawlor and Fernand de Varennes, the UN special rapporteur on Minority Issues, and Elina Steinerte, vice-chair of the working group on arbitrary detention, had written to the Indian government raising serious concern on Swamy’s arrest, which they deemed “escalation of harassment the human rights defender has been subjected to since 2018.” They had sought additional response from the government within 60 days which they never received.

In January this year at a virtual event marking 100 days of Swamy’s incarceration, Lawlor had criticized India’s stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), accusing the country of not properly protecting human rights defenders.

EU Special Representative for Human Rights Eamon Gilmore also took to Twitter to voice his condolences. “I am very saddened to hear that Fr #StanSwamy has passed away. A defender of indigenous peoples’ rights. He was held in detention for the past 9 months. The EU had been raising his case repeatedly with authorities,” he said.

After reports of Swamy’s deteriorating health emerged, at least 21 members of European Parliament had written to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his immediate release on humanitarian grounds. The European Jesuit Mission had also drawn the attention of the European lawmakers, calling it to intercede with the Indian authorities at the highest level for Swamy’s immediate release and safeguarding his human rights.

Swamy died in custody on Monday while awaiting a bail hearing on medical grounds, medical staff told the Bombay High Court.

He had been arrested in northeastern India last October under the UAPA for his alleged links to Maoists rebels and in connection to caste-based violence in 2018 known as the Bhima Koregaon case. Swamy denied the allegations.

He was the oldest person to be charged under the strict law and was then taken to Mumbai where a special court remanded him to judicial custody.

On May 28, the Bombay High Court directed the Maharashtra government to transfer Swamy from Taloja Central Jail to the Holy Family Hospital for treatment after he filed an application seeking bail on medical grounds.

The court has now directed authorities to conduct his postmortem examination and submit an autopsy report.

In addition to suffering from Parkinson’s disease, while undergoing treatment in the hospital, Swamy had also tested positive for COVID-19.

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