India: Arbitrary detention of Adivasi rights activist Mr. Stan Swamy

22/10/2020
Urgent Appeal

IND 006 / 1020 / OBS 113
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment
India
October 22, 2020

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in India.

Brief description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the arbitrary detention of Mr. Stan Swamy, an 83-year-old Jesuit priest and prominent Adivasi rights activist in Jharkhand State[1].

According to the information received, on October 8, 2020, around 8pm, Mr. Stan Swamy was arrested without any warrant by officials of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) at his residence in Ranchi, Jharkhand. He was then brought to Ranchi NIA office, before being transported on October 9, 2020 to Mumbai, Maharashtra State, where he was remanded in Taloja jail.

Mr. Stan Swamy was arrested for his alleged involvement in the “Bhima Koregaon case” (see background information), in connection with caste-based violence that broke out during Elgar Parishad, a Dalit commemoration of the anniversary of a battle the Dalits won 200 years ago against the Peshwas (upper caste rulers), at Bhima Koregaon, Maharashtra State, on January 1, 2018.

Over the past months, Mr. Stan Swamy had already been interrogated by the NIA for over a total of 15 hours on July 27, 28, 29, 30 and on August 6, 2020, at his residence in Ranchi, Jharkhand. After getting no more information for about six weeks, Mr. Swamy was suddenly summoned on October 6, 2020, to appear in the NIA office in Mumbai, to which he replied that he failed to see the need to further interrogate him given that he had already been interrogated for 15 hours and that he was not in a position to undertake the 1,700 km long journey to Mumbai given his age and the fact that he is suffering from advanced Parkinson’s disease, therefore putting him at an increased vulnerability of contracting COVID-19. However, he told the NIA officials that he was willing to be interrogated through videoconferencing.

The Observatory expresses its deepest concern about the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Mr. Stan Swamy, which seem to be only aimed at punishing and intimidating him for his legitimate human rights activities. The Observatory is also extremely concerned by the health of Mr. Stan Swamy in the overcrowded Taloja jail.

The Observatory urges the authorities of India to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Stan Swamy and to put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against him and all other human rights defenders in the country.

Background information:

The Observatory recalls that 15 other prominent human rights defenders across the country, known for their human rights work on behalf of the most marginalized communities in India, have been detained in the Bhima Koregaon case under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Some of them have been detained since June 2018. The 15 are: Mr. Varavara Rao[2], Ms. Sudha Bhardwaj, Mr. Vernon Gonsalves, Mr. Gautam Navlakha, Mr. Arun Ferreira, Mr. Sudhir Dhawale, Mr. Rona Wilson, Ms. Shoma Sen, Mr. Anand Teltumbde, Mr. Mahesh Raut, Mr. Surendra Gadling, Mr. Hany Babu, Mr. Sagar Ghogare, Mr. Ramesh Gaichor, and Ms. Jyoti Jagtap. Their bail applications have systematically been rejected. Moreover, just after an opposition-led government took office in Maharashtra State in 2019, the cases were transferred to the jurisdiction under the NIA, which comes under the Union Government, in January 2020. 

Actions requested:
 
Please write to the authorities in India, urging them to:
 
i. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Mr. Stan Swamy, and give him immediate and unconditional access to the medical attention he requires, as well as all above-mentioned human rights defenders;
 
ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Stan Swamy and all other human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in India, since their detention is arbitrary as it seems to be merely aimed at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities;
 
iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Mr. Stan Swamy and all other human rights defenders in India, and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals in all circumstances;
 
iv. Conform to the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular its Articles 1 and 12.2.;
 
v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights instruments ratified by India.
 
Addresses:
 
• Mr. Narendra Damodardas Modi, Prime Minister of India, E-mail: pmosb@pmo.nic.in, Twitter: @narendramodi
• Mr. Amit Shah, Union Minister of Home Affairs of India, Email: dirfcra-mha@gov.in
• Mr. Ajay Kumar Bhalla, Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs of India, Email: hshso@nic.in
• Mr. Sharad Arvind Bobde, Chief Justice of India, Supreme Court of India, Email: supremecourt@nic.in
• Mr. H.L. Dattu, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of India, Email: chairnhrc@nic.in, Twitter: @India_NHRC
• Mr. C. S. Mawri, Focal Point on Human Rights Defenders, National Human Rights Commission of India, Email: hrd-nhrc@nic.in
• H.E. Mr. Rajiv Kumar Chander, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: mission.india@ties.itu.int
 
Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of India located in your country.
 
***
Geneva-Paris, October 22, 2020
 
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
 
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail: Appeals[at]fidh-omct.org
• Tel OMCT +41 (0) 22 809 49 39
• Tel FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18


[1] Fifteen years ago, Mr. Stan Swamy founded the Jesuit social research and training centre “Bagaicha” in Ranchi, Jharkhand, with which he has tirelessly worked against illegal land acquisitions and forced displacement of Adivasi communities, as well as discrimination and human rights violations against them.
[2] See Observatory Urgent Appeal IND 005 / 0720 / OBS 079, published on July 16, 2020.

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