10/12/2020, 16.13
INDIA
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New appeals for Father Stan Swamy’s release

by Nirmala Carvalho

Father Stan worked for decades to protect the land rights of tribal communities in Jharkhand. He now stands accused of involvement with a violent Maoist movement. The Jesuit clergyman is the latest of a group of 16 people arrested, including well-known human rights defenders Arun Ferreira and Sudha Bharadwaj, both lawyers, and Vernon Gonsalves and Varavara Rao, both writers.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Father Frazer Mascarenhas, a famous Jesuit sociologist and pedagogist, manager of St Stanislaus High School and a former principal of the prestigious St Xavier's College, has issued an appeal for the release of Father Stan Swamy.

“The Jesuit team at St Stanislaus regrets to inform you of the unfortunate arrest, a few days ago, of 83-year-old Jesuit, Father Stan Swamy, of Ranchi, Jharkhand, in [connection with] the Bhima Koregaon case and who is now in Taloja jail,” read Fr Mascarenhas’s statement.

“Fr Stan has worked for decades in the most democratic manner, using the legal system, to safeguard the land rights of tribals in Jharkhand.

“He is being accused of being involved in a violent Maoist movement, as have other intellectuals and human rights workers like Adv Arun Ferreira. and Vernon Gonsalves.

“The Jesuits in India request you to join us in showing solidarity to these activists who live their lives for others.

“We invite you to a 45-minute prayer service on our YouTube channel,” which was live on Monday, 12 October, from 5:00 pm to 5:45 pm (local time).

In their message, the Jesuits urge “praying for the safety of Fr Stan and companions,” and call on the central government “not to target dissenters and human rights defenders.”

Fr Stan is the latest of a group of 16 people arrested, including well-known human rights defenders Arun Ferreira and Sudha Bharadwaj, both lawyers, and Vernon Gonsalves and Varavara Rao, both writers.

St Aloysius College of Higher Education, Bangalore, in association with the Jesuit Association for South Asian Higher Education, has urged people to express their dissent against the illegal arrest of the Jesuit human rights activist.

On Sunday, protests were held in Jamshedpur, Patna and Bangalore. The main demands were the release of Father Stan Swamy and all political prisoners as well as the repeal of UAPA, NSA and 124A.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested and charged the clergyman in connection with the Elgaar Parishad case, an alleged Maoist plot to incite violence through an Ambedkarite event in 2017, accusing him of being a member of the Maoist party. He was placed in judicial custody in Mumbai until 23 October.

Two days before his arrest. Fr Stan in a video statement spoke about his work on displacement, land alienation, the rights of gram sabhas (village councils), and jailed Adivasis.

He said he had objected to the "indiscriminate" arrests of thousands of young Adivasi and Moolvasis, branded "Maoists" because "they question and resist unjust alienation and displacement". This, he said, could be the main reason he was targeted over the Bhima-Koregaon case.

Many Catholics in India are fasting, praying and staging protests in Delhi, called by the Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace, a group of Christian priests and nuns from various congregations.

“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,” the Forum’s statement said.

Demanding “his immediate release,” they urge the authorities to “refrain from arbitrary arrests of innocent law-abiding citizens.”

Jharkhand Chef Minister Hemant Soren, economist Jean Dreze and several Christian groups have added their voices to the chorus of condemnations.

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