Action is taken against “violations of law and not against legitimate exercise of rights” in India, the foreign ministry said today in the first government response on the death of 84-year-old Stan Swamy. The death of the Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist — arrested last year under a tough anti-terror law — on Monday has drawn sharp criticism from national and international organisations, including the United Nations Human Rights Watch.
“Father Stan Swamy was arrested and detained by the National Investigation Agency following due process under law,” said foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi this evening. “Because of the specific nature of charges against him, his bail applications were rejected by the 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,” he added.
Stan Swamy was undergoing medical treatment at a private hospital “where he was receiving all possible medical attention” following the order of the Bombay High Court, the ministry said.
“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. India remains committed to promotion and protection of human rights of all its citizens,” the ministry said.
Stan Swamy was arrested on what is known as the Elgar Parishad Case. Arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which allows for prolonged detention for questioning, he died on Monday as a court was hearing an appeal against the rejection of his bail.
Earlier today, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement, “No one should be detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association,” said.
UN special rapporteur for human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, had also tweeted on the death of Stan Swamy.
“The news from India today is devastating Human Rights Defender & Jesuit priest Fr Stan Swamy has died in custody, nine months after his arrest on false charges of terrorism,” she posted. “Jailing HRDs (Human Rights Defenders) is inexcusable,” she had added.