Stan Swamy’s death a grim reminder that provisions of draconian laws like UAPA need to be reviewed

No one should be put behind bars on unfounded charges, without evidence, with no chargesheet, and no hope of commencement of trial in the near future

Stan Swamy’s death a grim reminder that provisions of draconian laws like UAPA need to be reviewed

Dr Gyan Pathak

Jesuit priest Father Stan Swami died in judicial custody on Monday. He was 84 years of age and ailing with several diseases including Parkinson’s. National Investigation Agency (NIA) had arrested him nine months ago in October 2020 on terror charges, yet unfounded, under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

In February this year, a forensic evidence revealed that the letters forming the very basis of the case were in fact planted in the laptop of a detenue, Rona Wilson, before he was arrested. The prosecution case became doubtful after the evidence, but barring 81-year-old poet Varavara Rao, none of the 16 behind bars in the case have reportedly been granted bail. The trial is yet to start because NIA is yet to submit all evidences and chargesheet.

From the State’s perspective, draconian laws like UAPA are perfect, under which it can detain a person without even giving the detenue the status of an accused, i.e. right to bail when prosecution case is doubtful, there’s no sufficient incriminating evidence, or even no chargesheet within a required timeframe as in the case of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). When a person is usually arrested, he is given the status of an accused under CrPC, and if chargesheet is not submitted within 60 days in non-cognizable offenses, and 90 days under cognizable offenses, the accused gets bail. However, detenues under UAPA and other crime control acts are kept in custody without such provisions.

From the people’s perspective, one must get justice, and the State should not be allowed to arrest any person and detain them for unlimited time even without evidence or chargesheet, and denying the detenue status of an ‘accused’ as is given under CrPC.

Such issues are out in the open following the death of Stan Swamy. How can a person be a terror threat in such a situation? And how is the purpose of justice served in denying bail to such a person?

Just a few weeks ago on May 21, a visibly-ailing Stain Swamy appeared before a bench of Bombay High Court via video link form Taloja jail, where he was lodged. During the hearing of the interim bail petition, Swamy said, “Taloja jail has brought me to a situation where I can neither write nor go for a walk by myself … Someone has to feed me.”

Suffering from an acute condition of Parkinson’s disease, Swamy needed a special cup to drink water and his body had undergone a “slow regression” since he was arrested from his home in Ranchi. Judges did offer him to be treated in a state-run hospital, but it was not acceptable to Swamy for he wanted better treatment facilities. “No, I would not want to,” he said. “I would rather suffer, possibly die here very shortly if this were to go on.”

On July 5, when his bail petition came up in Bombay High Court, Swamy’s lawyer informed the court that the doctor treating his client wanted to speak to the court, who went on to tell the court that Father Stan Swamy had passed on the same day at 1.30 PM.

His death has triggered a flood of criticism right from the place he lived to the United Nations. “The news from India today is devastating. Human Rights Defender (HRD) and Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy has died in custody, nine months after his arrest on false charges of terrorism. Jailing HRDs is inexcusable,” said Mary Lawlor, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for human rights defenders.

The European Union’s Special Representative for Human Rights Eamon Gilmore said, “I am very saddened to hear Fr Stan Swamy has passed away. A defender of indigenous people’s rights. … The EU had been raising his case repeatedly.”

Hemant Soren, the Chief Minister of Jharkhand, the state of Swamy’s residence and activities, posted his tribute and condolences and remembered him for dedicating his life working for tribals. “The Union Government should be answerable for absolute apathy and non-provision of timely medical services, leading to his death,” he said. The Chief Minister of Kerala also condoled his death.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi posted, “Heartfelt condolences on passing of Father Stan Swamy. He deserved justice and humaneness.”

These are but only a few of the numerous messages that appeared in the social media and elsewhere.

Stan Swamy was arrested in connection with an event of Elgar Parishad at Bhima Koregaon near Pune on December 31, 2017, which was followed by violence and arson that left one person dead. The prosecution says that activists assembled there made inflammatory speeches and provocative statements. As many as 16 people were arrested on charges of conspiracy, who were human rights lawyers, tribal rights activists, university professors, poets, and cultural activists.

In addition to allegedly plotting caste violence, they stand accused of planning to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The detenues are – Hany Babu, Sudha Bharadwaj, Sudhir Dawale, Arun Ferreira, Surendra Gadling, Ramesh Gaichor, Vernon Gonsalves, Sagar Gorkhe, Jyoti Jagtap, Gautam Navlakha, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Anand Telmunde and Rona Wilson.

Varavara Rao is on bail for six months on medical ground, and Stain Swamy has just died.

Quite clearly, there cannot be more brazen misuse of NIA and UAPA by Modi government. Stan Swamy’s death in judicial custody exposes highhandedness of the government and prosecution, and also the rotten prison system in which life is not safe.

Though no one has right to keep someone in jail on unfounded charges, without evidence, with no chargesheet, and no hope of commencement of trial in near future, that too at a time when evidence is against the alleged charges, the criminal justice system of our country failed in protecting the victim from government’s injustice. Such a situation must change for good.

(IPA Service)

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Published: 06 Jul 2021, 6:17 PM