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'Accountability for Murder in Custody': Tributes Pour in for Late Father Stan Swamy

The 84-year-old had moved the Bombay HC earlier this year seeking medical treatment and interim bail on health grounds. He had contracted COVID-19 last month and had been shifted to the ICU.
Stan Swamy

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Anger and exasperation filled tributes for the 84-year-old Jesuit priest Stan Swamy who died on Monday. While registering his pain and outrage over his death, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury called for accountability to be "fixed for this murder in custody."

An official of the hospital where he was being treated informed the Bombay High Court on Monday that Swamy had passed away at 1.30 pm on Monday. Dr Ian D'Souza, director of the Holy Family Hospital in suburban Bandra, told the HC's division bench of Justices S.S. Shinde and N.J. Jamadar.

The tribal rights activist was admitted to the private hospital on May 29 from Taloja prison following the HC's order on a petition filed by him, seeking medical attention as he was then suffering from COVID-19 and Parkinson's disease.

D'Souza told the court that Swamy suffered a cardiac arrest early Sunday morning following which he was put on ventilator support. “He (Swamy) did not recover and passed away this afternoon,” the official told the court. The cause of the death was a pulmonary infection, Parkinson's disease and post COVID-19 complications, he said.

Swamy's counsel Mihir Desai said there was negligence on part of the Taloja prison authorities, who failed to provide immediate medical attention to the Jesuit priest.

Swamy was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in October 2020 in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case and had been in jail since then.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also offered his condolences, saying that Swamy "deserved justice and humaneness."

Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan said that it was "nothing less than murder" by the state of "one of the gentlest and kindest men I have known. Unfortunately our judicial system is also complicit in this," he added.

Calling it a "custodial killing", CPI(ML) leader Kavita Krishnan tweeted:

In Srinagar, Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti expressed shock over the death of 84-year-old tribal activist Stan Swamy, saying a "ruthless and callous government deprived him of dignity and has blood on its hands.

 Deeply disturbed by the passing away of 84 year old tribal activist Stan Swamy. A ruthless & callous government that deprived him of dignity even while he was alive has blood on its hands. Absolutely shocked & appalled. May his soul rest in peace, Mehbooba wrote on Twitter.

On Saturday, Swamy had challenged a provision of the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) dealing with grant of bail in the Bombay High Court, contending it has created an "insurmountable hurdle" for those seeking relief.

Swamy said section 43D(5) of the UAPA was violative of the accused person's fundamental right to life and liberty as guaranteed by the Constitution. The HC on Saturday had extended Swamy's stay at the hospital till Tuesday.

Swamy's plea had stated that presumption of innocence is a fundamental tenet of criminal jurisprudence and when a harsh condition, such as that mentioned above is imposed on grant of bail, even before the trial is conducted, the same "inverts on its head, the principle of presumption of innocence."

In the Bhima Koregaon case, Swamy and his co-accused had been charged by the National Investigating Agency (NIA) as being members of frontal organisations working on behalf of the banned CPI (Maoist).

Last month, the NIA had filed an affidavit before the HC opposing Swamy's bail plea. It had said that there did not exist "conclusive proof" of his medical ailments. It alleged that Swamy was a Maoist, who had hatched a conspiracy to create unrest in the country.

Swamy had moved the high court earlier this year through advocate Desai, seeking medical treatment and interim bail on health grounds.

He had tested positive for COVID-19 at a private hospital last month and was subsequently shifted to the ICU. His plea for medical bail and bail on merits was listed for hearing in the high court on Friday but could not be taken up due to the paucity of time.

The bench had adjourned the hearing to Tuesday and extended his hospital stay till then.

With PTI Inputs

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