Top United Nations and European Union human rights officials have termed the death of Jesuit priest and activist Stan Swamy as "devastating", saying the 84-year-old defender of indigenous peoples' rights in India was imprisoned on "false charges of terrorism".
"The news from India today is devastating. Human Rights Defender and Jesuit priest Fr. Stan Swamy has did in custody, nine months after his arrest on false charges of terrorism. Jailing Human Rights Defenders is inexcusable," said Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders.
She had earlier expressed concern about the deteriorating health condition of Swamy and sought possible specialist treatment for him. She had described the charges against him as “unfounded.”
European Union Special Representative for Human Rights Eamon Gilmore echoed similar sentiment in a tweet in which he tagged Lawlor's tweet.
"India: I am very saddened to hear that Fr #StanSwamy has passed away. A defender of indigenous peoples' rights. He was held in detention for the past 9 months. The EU had been raising his case repeatedly with authorities,” Gilmore tweeted on Monday.
Swamy died at the Holy Family Hospital, where he was admitted on May 29, in Mumbai on Monday, a day after he suffered a cardiac arrest and was put on ventilator support.
He suffered from Parkinson's disease and several other ailments.
Swamy was arrested by the National Investigation Agency from Ranchi, Jharkhand in October 2020 under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act in connection with the Elgar Parishad case and lodged at the Taloja Central Jail in Navi Mumbai.
The Elgar Parishad case relates to alleged inflammatory speeches made by some activists at a conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017.
Police claim these speeches triggered violence the next day near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial located on the outskirts of the city and that the conclave was organised by people with alleged Maoist links.
During his custody, Swamy had also tested positive for COVID-19.