Centre should be held accountable for Stan Swamy's 'custodial murder': Oppn leaders and activists

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New Delhi, Jul 5 (PTI) Opposition leaders and activists hit out at the Centre after the death of Jesuit priest and activist Stan Swamy on Monday, saying it should be held accountable for the 'ruthless' and 'inhuman treatment' meted out to the 84-year-old who was suffering from multiple ailments and awaiting bail on medical grounds.

They termed Swamy's death a 'custodial murder' and alleged that the Centre and the judges who repeatedly denied bail to him had 'blood on their hands'.

Swamy was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) from Ranchi in October 2020 under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in connection with the Elgar Parishad case and lodged at the Taloja Central Jail in Navi Mumbai.

He died at the Holy Family Hospital, where he was admitted on May 29, in Mumbai on Monday, a day after he suffered a cardiac arrest and was put on ventilator support.

Taking to Twitter, senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said Swamy deserved justice and humaneness.

Expressing shock over Swamy's death, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren said the central government should be held accountable for its 'absolute apathy' towards the octogenarian.

'Shocked to learn about the demise of Father Stan Swamy. He dedicated his life to working for tribal rights. I had strongly opposed his arrest & incarceration. The Union government should be answerable for absolute apathy and non-provision of timely medical services, leading to his death,' he said in a tweet.

Left parties too alleged that 'inhuman treatment' was meted out to Swamy and demanded that all those responsible for his death be arrested.

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said he was 'deeply pained and outraged' over Swamy's death.

'A jesuit priest & social activist he tirelessly helped the marginalised. Draconian UAPA custody, inhuman treatment since October 2020 with no charge established. Accountability must be fixed for this murder in custody,' he tweeted.

The Tamil Nadu state committee of the CPI(M) announced that it would hold state-wide demonstrations on July 8 to protest the injustice that Swamy faced.

All those arrested in Bhima Koregaon and other cases with 'political motives' should be released, CPI(M) state secretary K Balakrishnan said in a statement.

In a statement, the CPI alleged that Swamy was denied medical treatment.

'His death raises several questions regarding the judiciary, treatment in custody, denial of medical facilities, torture in custody... The party demands arrest of all those responsible for foisting false cases on him, his continued detention and inhuman treatment. They should be held accountable for his death and given proper punishment,' it said.

The Elgar Parishad case relates to alleged inflammatory speeches made by some activists at a conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017.

Police claim these speeches triggered violence the next day near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial located on the outskirts of the city and that the conclave was organised by people with alleged Maoist links.

Kavita Krishnan, a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) politburo, tweeted, 'It's over. Modi and Shah have accomplished the custodial killing of the gentle Jesuit social worker Fr Stan Swamy, who spent his life serving the oppressed. I hope the judges who denied him bail never get to sleep at night: they have blood on their hands.' Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said it was unjustifiable that a man who fought all through his life for our society's most downtrodden had to die in custody.

'Such travesty of justice should have no place in our democracy. Heartfelt condolences!' he tweeted.

Anti-graft crusader and RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj termed Swamy's death an 'institutional murder'.

'With UAPA, the process is the punishment. The death of 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy should be recognised for what it is - institutional murder. RIP Father Stan,' she tweeted.

Rights activist Shabnam Hashmi spoke in the same vein.

'#StanSwamy passes away. Fr. Stan Swamy passes away as undertrial in state custody under fake charges under UAPA, NIA, sedition. This is not death, this is custodial murder. Government has to be held accountable,' she said in a tweet.

Karwan-e-Mohabbat, a people's campaign devoted to equality, freedom and justice said, 'Father Stan Swamy has died. He is now free. The state that inflicted cruelties on this brave, noble soul has murder on its hands'.

On Saturday, the Bombay High Court extended Swamy's stay at the hospital till July 6 after his lawyer Mihir Desai informed a bench of justices S S Shinde and N J Jamadar that he was still undergoing treatment at the ICU of the Holy Family Hospital.

Swamy had challenged in the court a provision of the UAPA dealing with the grant of bail, contending that it created an 'insurmountable hurdle' for those seeking relief.

According to Desai, Swamy was the oldest among the 16 accused arrested in the Elgar Parishad case and, possibly the oldest in India be charged under the UAPA.

Others arrested in connection with the case include some of India's most respected scholars, lawyers, academicians and activists.

Desai told the HC on Monday that he had no grievances against the court and the private hospital where Swamy was treated, but he could not say the same for the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is probing the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case, and the state prison authorities.

He alleged the NIA had been negligent in providing timely and adequate medical aid to Swamy and asked the HC to initiate a judicial inquiry into the circumstances that led to the undertrial activist's death.

'The NIA did not seek Swamy's custody even for a single day, but kept on opposing his bail pleas,' he said.

Swamy suffered from Parkinson's disease and several other ailments. During his custody, he had also tested positive for COVID-19. PTI TEAM DIV DIV

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