NEW DELHI: India on Tuesday rejected mounting international criticism over the death of rights activist Father Stan Swamy, and said the due process of law was followed in his case and that the authorities act against violations of law and do not restrain legitimate exercise of rights.
Asserting that India remains committed to the promotion and protection of human rights of all its citizens, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said the country’s democratic polity is complemented by an independent judiciary and a range of national and state-level human rights commissions.
Eighty-four-year-old Stan Swamy, who was arrested last year under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in connection with the Elgar Parishad case, died in a Mumbai hospital on Monday.
India’s assertion came as UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet and human rights officials of the US and European Union (EU) expressed concern over the death of the Jesuit priest and rights activist.
Noting that Father Stan Swamy was arrested and detained by the National Investigation Agency following due process under law, the ministry said because of the specific nature of charges against him, his bail applications were rejected by courts.
“Authorities in India act against violations of law and not against legitimate exercise of rights. All such actions are strictly in accordance with the law,” MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said.
His comments came in response to media queries relating to reactions over the demise of Stan Swamy.
In view of Father Stan Swamy’s ailing health, the Bombay High Court had allowed his medical treatment at a private hospital where he was receiving all possible medical attention since May 28, Bagchi said.
The MEA spokesperson said Swamy’s health and medical treatment was being closely monitored by the courts and he passed away on July 5 following medical complications.
“India’s democratic and constitutional polity is complemented by an independent judiciary, a range of national and state-level human rights commissions that monitor violations, a free media and a vibrant and vocal civil society,” Bagchi said.
“India remains committed to promotion and protection of human rights of all its citizens,” he added.
Earlier, the UN body on human rights said it was “deeply saddened and disturbed” by the death of the activist in pre-trial detention.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bachelet and the UN’s independent experts have repeatedly raised the cases of Swamy and 15 other human rights defenders with the government of India over the past three years and urged their release from detention, it said.
“We are deeply saddened and disturbed by the death of 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy, a human rights defender and Jesuit priest, in Mumbai yesterday, following his arrest in October 2020 under India’s Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act,” Liz Throssell, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said.
“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,” she said in a statement.
“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 decongest the prisons,” she said.
Throssell said the High Commissioner called on the Government of India to ensure that no one is detained for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly.
Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, termed Swamy’s death as “devastating” and claimed he was imprisoned on “false charges of terrorism”.
“The news from India today is devastating. Human Rights Defender and Jesuit priest Fr. Stan Swamy has died in custody, nine months after his arrest on false charges of terrorism. Jailing Human Rights Defenders is inexcusable,” said Lawlor.
European Union Special Representative for Human Rights Eamon Gilmore too expressed concerns.