Justice for Father Stan Swamy!
Justice for Father Stan Swamy!
Hon'ble Mr. Justice N.V. Ramana,
The Chief Justice of India.
We are writing to you with a deep sense of anguish at the custodial death of Father Stan Swamy, who passed away on the 5th of July 2021. 84-year old Fr. Stan Swamy was under arrest since October 2020, for the Bhima Koregaon case. He was lodged in the Taljola Central Jail in Maharashtra for over 8-months and was transferred to a hospital in Mumbai in May 2021 after his health deteriorated. Fr. Stan Swamy was a steadfast defender of human rights in India, especially of marginalised communities and persons. His contribution in defending the rights of the poor and marginalised were duly acknowledged by the people of Jharkhand, across the country and beyond.
Despite always co-operating with the investigating agencies and with no compelling evidence to suggest why he should have been kept in prison, the NIA opposed his bail and the judicial authorities also chose to neglect his deteriorating health and repeatedly denied interim bail. Fr. Stan Swamy suffered from Parkinson’s Disease and had recently even contracted Covid-19 at this old age. On numerous instances, his counsel also appraised the courts of how he was denied basic health facilities and even a straw to sip water, because of his existing condition.
In his last appearance before the honourable court Fr. Stan Swamy while requesting for interim bail had said, “I would prefer to suffer and die like this in Taloja jail than being admitted to JJ Hospital. It will not improve; it will keep going. Only one thing that I would request the judiciary is to consider for interim bail. That is the only request.” The bail was never granted and Fr. Stan Swamy’s health only deteriorated further after months of unnecessary, wrongful incarceration, and denial of basic health facilities in jail. And in his custodial death a grave miscarriage of justice has taken place that blots the conscience of our country’s judicial system.
The custodial death of Fr. Stan Swamy is a grim reminder of what is happening to many others today. The wanton imposition of a draconian law like the UAPA, the incarceration of members of civil society and the denial of bail is turning into a perverse exercise of meting out punishment even before a person is guilty. As a democratic republic committed to the rule of law and natural justice, this perverse use of the law and procedure by those exercising power must be reigned in. While the judicial process must take its due course, we cannot ignore the fact that in too many instances, the due process itself is turning into punishment for scores of under-trials lodged under these draconian provisions. If charges are not proven under a court of law within a short and defined period of time, they should be granted bail.
The death of Fr. Stan Swamy cannot be reversed but his death must compel us, as citizens of India, to seek a guarantee that such a miscarriage of justice never occurs again. We have seen that such draconian laws are being used to specifically target anti-government voices. It is important that such draconian laws that demand no accountability from the state undergo judicial review at the earliest. As the Chief Justice of the highest court in the land, we implore you to take suo moto cognisance of this and help make good this guarantee, of not allowing such a miscarriage to ever take place again.
We, the undersigned citizens of India, therefore urge you to employ your wisdom and protect the conscience of this country’s judicial system by taking the following actions:
1. Immediately institute a judicial review on the application of laws like Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), National Security Act (NSA), and Section 124(A) of the IPC (Sedition).
2. Review all existing cases under these laws where bail is being denied, without any compelling evidence. And thereby extend interim bail to under trials who are being incarcerated. Or provide directions for the completion of speedy trial without any delay.
3. Institute a judicial enquiry into the reasons for the deterioration of Fr. Stan Swamy's health while in prison. And to review his bail application and ascertain and review why interim bail was denied to him despite his ill health and full cooperation with the investigation.