Indian Catholic priests and nuns protest against the arrest of Father Stan Swamy. | AFP or licensors

By Vatican News staff writer

Oct 27 2020

The Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences is calling for the release of Indian Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy and 15 human rights activists facing trial for alleged links with Maoist rebels.

The Catholic Church in Asia has expressed its closeness and solidarity with arrested Indian Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy and all who support the rights of indigenous and marginalized people, UCANEWS reported.   

“It is with great shock and agony the FABC heard of the arrest of the 83-year-old Father Swamy and his incarceration and we are surprised at the charges brought against him,” said UCANEWS citing a statement by Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, the president of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC). 

“The arrest and cold-hearted incarceration of Father Swamy reminds us of the treatment meted out to Mahatma Gandhi when he stood up for the rights of the Indian people,” the cardinal said in his appeal on Monday. 

He said Father Swamy was following Gandhi’s non-violent path to realize his dream: “The arrest is symptomatic of the treatment meted out to indigenous people in various parts of Asia.”

Sedition charges

The National Investigation Agency (NIA), the federal unit that is charged with anti-terrorism activities, arrested Father Swamy on 8 Ocober at Bagaicha, a Jesuit social action centre for indigenous rights in the outskirts of Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand state. 

The agency charged the elderly priest with sedition and for his links with an outlawed Maoist group, which was behind the 2018 Bhima Koregaon violence case in Maharashtra state.  Father Swamy refutes the allegations saying he has never been to Bhima Koregaon.

The day after his arrest, a special NIA court in Mumbai, Maharashtra state, remanded him in judicial custody until 23 October.   A bail plea on health grounds for the ailing priest was rejected by the court on 23 October, extending his remand by another two weeks until 5 November.  The frail and ailing priest suffers from Parkinson’s disease and hearing loss.

Indigenous rights

As part of his social activism, Father Swamy has been working to secure the release of young tribal activists fighting for their ancestral land rights and against forced displacement.  They have been arrested and jailed as undertrials, accused of being members of Maoist groups engaged in violence in Jharkhand.

According to the Asian bishops’ president, the Asian market economy and its promoters have treated indigenous communities with a colonial mentality, making them environmental refugees.  Yet, it is the indigenous communities who protect nature and restore it to the world. 

Cardinal Bo urged the relevant authorities to acknowledge the role indigenous people play in the welfare of the world and release their people and those who support them, such as Father Swamy.

The cardinal hoped the country’s “leaders will show sagacity and magnanimity in appreciating the services of Father Swamy and other indigenous people’s leaders, releasing them as free citizens of India.”  (Source: UCANEWS)