Jesuits worldwide are mobilising in protest after an 84-year-old Jesuit priest and human rights activist was arrested in India accused of terrorist links.
Fr Stan Swamy SJ, a prominent and popular human rights activist, was arrested by the National Investigation Agency for alleged Maoist links on October 8.
In addition, 15 activists were detained with him, including well-known human rights lawyers Arun Ferreira and Sudha Bharadwaj, and writers Vernon Gonsalvez and Varavara Rao. They are being held in Taloja Prison in Mumbai.
Described by the Jesuits as in poor health, Fr Swamy has worked for five decades for the marginalised, downtrodden and other vulnerable communities, especially the indigenous people in Jharkhand, India.
In a video statement made two days before his arrest Fr Swamy said: “What is happening to me is not unique. Many activists, lawyers, writers, journalists, student leaders, poets, intellectuals, and others who stand for the rights of Adivasis, Dalits, and the marginalised and express their dissent to the ruling powers of the country are being targeted and put into jail.”
His arrest and remand in custody has led to protests across India. The Jesuit Conference of South Asia convened a National Day of Solidarity when hundreds of activists, students, church related people called for the release of Fr Swamy and the others also detained.
Events are being held, songs have been composed and a prayer asking for his release will be read in the churches in India tomorrow. Letters to MPs in India and different parts of the world including the UK have been sent and a petition for his release has collected more than 50,000 signatures in a few days.
Fr Xavier Jeyaraj, secretary of the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat of the Society of Jesus in Rome said: “We, as Jesuits involved in works of education, caring and defending the rights of the poor and the vulnerable all over the world, stand in solidarity with Stan and other human rights defenders in India and strongly condemn the arrest of Fr Stan Swamy, demand immediate release, and request the state to refrain from arbitrary arrests of innocent law abiding citizens.”
The society said that during July and August, Fr Swamy was questioned many times for more than 15 hours in total at the Jesuit residence in Bagaicha, Ranchi.
It is believed that his arrest relates to the case of Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad on 31 December 2017, in which organisations serving the Dalits convened an event to commemorate 200th anniversary of the battle of Koregaon Bhima, a rare occasion when the Dalits as prevailed over the dominant Brahmin. Around 35,000 people attende the event, which was seen as provocative by Hindu extremist groups who tried to arrange boycotts. The event ended in violence that left one person dead and several injured and arrested.
Fr Swamy strongly denies having ever been to Bhima Koregoan, as well as any accusations linking him to Maoist forces. According to the Jesuits, he believes that the state is after him because of his dissent with several policies of the government and his struggle for the rights of the Adivasis. Father Stan has been working for decades for the land rights of the Adivasis, documenting the abuse of power against indigenous youth, falsely accused and imprisoned for defending their rights. He filed a public interest litigation in court against the state of Jharkhand on behalf of 3000 imprisoned indigenous people.