Mumbai court rejects bail request for Fr. Stan Swamy
by Nirmala Carvalho

The Special Court rules that the 83-year-old Jesuit with Parkinson's, in prison for 150 days, cannot be released pending trial. The National Investigation Agency considers human rights organizations to be terrorist formations. The Jesuits had promoted a day of fasting in view of the verdict.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - The Mumbai based National Investigation Agency (NIA) Special Court today rejected the request for release on bail of the 83-year-old Jesuit Father Stan Swamy. The defender of tribal rights in Jharkhand was arrested on 8 October on terrorism charges connected to the investigation into the clashes that took place in 2018 at the commemoration of the battle of Bhima Koregaon.

The special judge D.E. Kothlikar has ruled the request presented by the lawyers as inadmissible, despite the health conditions of Father Swamy, who suffers from Parkinson's disease.

The bail request had challenged the charges of links with the communist guerrilla, explaining that the Persecuted Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee (Pppsc) with which the Jesuit worked is not a Maoist organization as claimed by the NIA, but one of the main human rights associations in Jharkhand.

The same goes for the Bagaicha association, founded by Father Swamy to defend the rights of tribals and which among its aims also fights legal battles against the illegal detention of minors accused of being Maoists.

Defense lawyer Sharif Sheikh told the court: “Nowhere have the prosecution (NIA) been able to establish that the applicant himself is a member of the banned organisation. Working for the undertrials who could or couldn't have been maoist does not make the applicant himself a maoist. Nowhere has the prosecution been able to establish that the applicant was involved in any terror activity."

In addition, the Jesuit's health conditions are of serious concern. In addition to the tremor caused by Parkinson's (in the Taloja prison he had to wait a month even just to get a straw to be able to drink), he suffers from deafness in both ears and severe lower back pain, having undergone two hernia operations.

"For this reason - recalled the bail request - he was transferred to the infirmary of the prison where he is assisted by the other inmates". He therefore finds himself in a situation in many ways similar to that of Varavara Rao - another of the other 16 co-defendants for the same case in 2018 - to whom the High Court of Mumbai had granted a six-month temporary release a few weeks ago in order to be properly cared for. "The bail is a right - claimed the Jesuit’s defense team - and keeping an 83-year-old man in prison has no use for the purposes of the trial".

Special prosecutor Prakash Shetty argued that the bail request is unfounded. In particular, the prosecution spoke of the existence of a correspondence of over 140 emails with the co-defendants and against Father Swamy cited some criticisms advanced by the Jesuit regarding the Green Hunt operation, a military campaign by the Indian government for the "eradication" of the Maoist guerrilla warfare. He also claimed that Father Swamy tried to tamper with the evidence, deleting some emails that would confirm his ties with Maoist groups and that the NIA would be able to find in his computer (this thesis also contested by the defense which fears fabricated evidence).

The news of the bail rejection was met with bewilderment by the Indian Catholic community. The Jesuit Conference of South Asia (Jcsa) had promoted a special day of fasting that ended last night with a prayer meeting streamed online on the eve of today's audience.

"We are saddened - comments the president of the Jesuits of India, Jerome Stanislaus D’Souza - but we continue to hope and pray for justice to prevail and for Father Stan to be released soon after a fair trial".

The intention to move forward in the legal battle is also confirmed to AsiaNews by Father Santhanam, a Jesuit and lawyer, spokesman for the National Forum of Lawyers for Religious and Priests (Nlfrp): "The rejection of bail plea of Fr. Stan Swamy is disappointing everyone who fought and prayed for his release for the last 150 days. He is not a man who would run away from legal process and he had been continuously cooperating to any investigation either by the Mumbai Police or by NIA. Bail is a right of an under trail prisoner. Unchecked and unending judicial custody should not be a punishment for the unproved allegations on anyone. All the legal doors are not closed for his release. The fight would continue in all judicial forum. The objection to release Fr. Stan Swamy on bail proves that the government is still panicked by the dissenting voices of intellectuals.