Close to 2,000 activists, journalists, former bureaucrats and members of civil society have condemned the arrest of 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy on October 8 by the National Investigation Agency in connection with the violence at Bhima Koregaon in 2017.
Swamy, who has been questioned twice earlier by the Pune Police and the NIA, was taken from his residence on Thursday evening and placed under arrest for links with the banned CPI(Maoist), NIA officials alleged.
The cleric is the sixteenth person to be arrested in the case. The accused have been booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the anti-terror law UAPA.
In a statement, the group has said that Swamy is someone who has worked for Adivasi rights in Jharkhand for decades. It said that the “inhuman and insincere” arrest by NIA officials is “sheer vindictiveness” after the 84-year-old had cooperated with the officers when they had questioned him at his home in Bagaicha for over 15 hours between July 27 and July 30 and on August 6.
“Stan has consistently denied any link with extremist leftist forces or Maoists. He had also clearly told the NIA that some so-called extracts allegedly taken from his computer shown to him by the NIA were fake and fabricated and that he disowned them. It is deeply worrying that the NIA arrested an 84-year old with several health ailments during the COVID epidemic and made him travel to Mumbai,” the statement said.
In a statement which he wrote two days prior to his arrest (also on video here), Swamy had said that what was happening to him was not “unique”.
“The nature of the present NIA investigation of me has nothing to do about Bhima Koregaon case in which I have been booked as a ‘Suspected-accused’ and consequently raided twice (28 August 2018 and 12 June 2019). But it had everything to do to somehow establish (i) that I am personally linked to extremist leftist forces, (ii) that through me Bagaicha is also relating to some Maoists. I denied both these allegations in strongest terms,” he wrote.
Swamy wrote that six weeks after the interrogation, he was being summoned to appear at the NIA office in Mumbai. He said that he failed to “understand the need for interrogating me further given the fact I have been subjected to that for 15 hours already,” adding that he was not in a position to travel given his age.
He wrote that given the COVID-19 epidemic, the Jharkhand government had also issued a directive that elderly people above 60 may not appear in public, and that “...if the investigating agency wants to interrogate me further it can be done through video-conference.”
“I would just add that what is happening to me is not unique. Many activists, lawyers, writers, journalists, student leaders, poets, intellectuals and others who stand for the rights of Adivasis, dalits and the marginalised and express their dissent to the ruling powers of the country are being targeted,” he added.
Swamy was referring to the Bhima-Koregaon case, under the guise of which the Modi government has been targeting activists, academics and intellectuals for having alleged links to Maoists.
“We firmly believe that the Bhima-Koregaon case, being driven by the Modi government, is a baseless fabrication. The central government, in the guise of the Bhima Koregaon case, is trying to build a false narrative of a national Maoist conspiracy against the state that involves these activists. The main objective of the case is to target and harass activists who work for the rights of Adivasis, Dalits and the marginalised and raise questions against the anti-people policies of the government. The Bhima-Koregaon conspiracy case exposes the extent to which the central government is willing to undermine constitutional values and suppress dissent. The arrest of Stan Swamy is also an attack on all those working for human and constitutional rights in Jharkhand,” the group’s statement added.
In their statement, the civil society group appealed to Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren to oppose Swamy’s arrest and demand his immediate release and a closure of the case from the Centre.