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'Father Stan Swamy Was A Long Standing Activist' : UN Body Mourns His Death In Custody; Urges India To Release Persons Detained Without Legal Basis

Shrutika Pandey
6 July 2021 1:16 PM GMT
Father Stan Swamy Was A Long Standing Activist : UN Body Mourns His Death In Custody; Urges India To Release Persons Detained Without Legal Basis
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Today, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) urged India to release every person detained without a sufficient legal basis, including those arrested simply for expressing critical or dissenting views. Furthermore, it stressed the call on the Government of India to ensure that no one is detained for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly,...

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Today, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) urged India to release every person detained without a sufficient legal basis, including those arrested simply for expressing critical or dissenting views. Furthermore, it stressed the call on the Government of India to ensure that no one is detained for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.

The statement comes in the wake of the death of 84-year old Father Stan Swamy in judicial custody as an undertrial prisoner in the Bhima Koregaon case.

"In light of the continued, severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more urgent that States, including India, release every person detained without a sufficient legal basis, including those detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views. This would be in line with the Indian judiciary's calls to de-congest the prisons."

In March 2020, the Supreme Court directed the constitution of state-level High Powered Committees (HPCs) to oversee the decongestion efforts while also directing weekly meetings of the Undertrial Review Committee, a district-level body mandated to review cases for release of undertrials. A report by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative shows that within three months of the constitution of HPCs, the prison population all over India decreased by 10.42%, while 27% of prisons remain overcrowded.

In a press briefing expressing grief on the demise of Jesuit priest and human rights defender Fr. Stan Swamy, the spokesperson of UNHCR, Liz Throssell, noted,

"Father Stan had been held in pre-trial detention without bail since his arrest, charged with terrorism-related offences in relation to demonstrations that date back to 2018. He was a long-standing activist, particularly on the rights of indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups. While in Mumbai's Taloja Central Jail, his health deteriorated and he reportedly contracted COVID-19. His repeated applications for bail were rejected. He died as the Bombay High Court was considering an appeal against the rejection of his bail application."

The press note also mentions the concerns raised by High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet and the UN's independent experts regarding the incarceration of Father Stan and 15 other human rights defenders associated with the Bhima Koregaon incident over the past three years urging their release from pre-trial detention.

The High Commissioner reiterated concerns over using the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1987 (UAPA) concerning human rights defenders. Earlier in 2018, the UN experts expressed worries about laying charges against defenders in the Bhima Koregaon incident. It had noted,

"We are concerned that terrorism charges brought in connection with the commemoration of Bhima-Koregaon are being used to silence human rights defenders who promote and protect the rights of India's Dalit, indigenous, and tribal communities."

Yesterday, the European Union's Special Representative for Human Rights and United Nations Special Rapporteur for human rights defenders also shared their feelings of sadness and devastation at the demise of Fr. Stan Swamy.



Click here to read the press brief.

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