Stan Swamy’s Bail Plea Rejected Again

Stan Swamy’s Bail Plea Rejected Again

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By Jose Kavi

New Delhi: A court in Mumbai, western India, on March 22 rejected the bail application of Jesuit tribal activist Father Stan Swamy, plunging his confreres and friends into deep gloom.

“We are saddened to share with you the news that Fr Stan Swamy has been denied bail today, 22 March 2021, by the Sessions Court judge in Mumbai,” says a press note from Father Jerome Stanislaus D’Souza, president of Jesuits in India.

Special Judge D E Kothlikar of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Court dismissed the bail application that had particularly cited the 83-year-old priest’s Parkinson’s disease as one of the grounds for seeking bail.

The NIA, India’s counter-terrorist task force, arrested Father Swamy on October 8, 2020, from his residence near Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand state in eastern India, and flew him the same night to Mumbai, some 1,750 km southwest.

The NIA charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and terror related offences of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for allegedly furthering the cause of banned Maoist groups through various civil rights organizations. His application for bail was pending since November, 2020.

Father Stan, through his lawyer Sharif Sheikh, filed for bail on grounds that he is being framed in the case by the National Investigating Agency (NIA) because of the nature of his work and that he is suffering from serious ailments.

Father D’Souza, who heads more than 4,000 Jesuits in South Asia, urged his confreres and supporters not to lose hope and continue to pray for justice to prevail and Father Swamy be released soon and acquitted after a fair trial. He expressed “a deep faith in the Constitution of India and in the judiciary.”

He also prayed for strength and courage to bear the “this painful verdict” while seeking God’s guidance for his lawyer and his junior Kritiga Agarwal, who he said have been relentlessly working for Father Swamy’s release.

The bail rejection has upset Jesuits and others India.

“I am disappointed with the verdict. The truth has to wait in darkness for long to get to see light. But I am confident the truth will prevail,” says Father Irudaya Jothi, a social activist in West Bengal state, who acknowledges being “inspired by” the senior confrere’s “indomitable courage and conviction.”

Father Jothi, who has worked at grassroots as a food rights activist, said he continues to pray for Father Swamy and 15 others accused in the 2018 Bhima Koregaon-Elgaar Parishad case.

He also said people like Father Swamy empower younger Jesuits like him to continue to work for “the liberation for the most disadvantaged in society, specially the Dalits, Adivasis, women, children, migrants and refugees.”

He also expressed the hope that they will “overcome this artificially created crisis.”

Father Swamy also suffers from hearing loss from both ears and arms injury. “He has undergone two hernia operations and is still suffering from abdomen pain. He suffers intense pain due to lumbar spondylitis, or the tear and wear of the lumbar disc and tremors in both hands due to Parkinson’s. In fact, he has been shifted to the prison hospital and is being taken care of by other inmates,” his application reads.

In the NIA court, Father Swamy’s lawyer argued that the agency had failed to bring on the record any act of terrorism committed by the priest. He submitted that working for undertrials who could or couldn’t have been Maoists does not make the Jesuit a Maoist, reports

The lawyer said: “The region is torn in conflict between the State and Naxalites. The prosecution (NIA) has at the most managed to establish that the applicant had some correspondence with others who could be members of banned organizations. Nowhere have they been able to establish that the applicant himself is a member of the banned organization. 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.”

Seeking bail, the priest urged the court that criminal jurisprudence has time and again reiterated that the bail is the rule and “keeping a sick 83 year old incarcerated does not serve any purpose to the prosecution.”

The NIA in their reply, filed through Special Public Prosecutor Prakash Shetty, said that the bail application was not maintainable and there was sufficient material to establish a prima facie case against the priest. The NIA denied that proper procedures were not followed while conducting searches at his house.

The agency has also claimed to have found more than 140 email communications between the Jesuit and the co-accused in the case.

The Elgaar (loud invitation or loud declaration) Parishad (council) was held December 31, 2017, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon Bhima. The battle was fought between 25,000 Peshwa army and 500 British soldiers, including people from the Mahar (Dalit) community, who won. Dalit groups view the battle as their victory over upper caste people.

The commemoration was organized by a coalition of 260 NGOs at Pune’s Shaniwarwada Fort, and had approximately 35,000 participants. The program consisted of a number of cultural performances, speeches and slogans.

Hundreds of people visiting the war memorial at Bhima Koregaon were attacked on January 1, 2018, after violence erupted. They were mostly from Dalit community and one died in the stone throwing.

The NIA took over the case from the Pune police based on First Information Report alleging that banned Naxalite (Maoist) groups had organized the commemoration. Police claimed that the speeches at the event were partly responsible for instigating violence the next day.

At the same time, FIRs filed by two Dalit women had alleged that Hindutva groups were behind the violence. In various cases of violence, about 200 people were booked for their alleged involvement, and questioned, but all of them are out on bail now.

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