Press briefing notesOffice of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Press briefing notes on India
06 July 2021
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Liz Throssell
Date: 6 July 2021
We are deeply saddened and disturbed by the death of 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy, a human rights defender and Jesuit priest, in Mumbai yesterday, following his arrest in October 2020 under India's Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
Father Stan had been held in pre-trial detention without bail since his arrest, charged with terrorism-related offences in relation to demonstrations that date back to 2018. He was a long-standing activist, particularly on the rights of indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups. While in Mumbai's Taloja Central Jail, his health deteriorated and he reportedly contracted COVID-19. His repeated applications for bail were rejected. He died as the Bombay High Court was considering an appeal against the rejection of his bail application.
High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet and the UN's independent experts have repeatedly raised the cases of Father Stan and 15 other human rights defenders associated with the same events with the Government of India over the past three years and urged their release from pre-trial detention. The High Commissioner has also raised concerns over the use of the UAPA in relation to human rights defenders, a law Father Stan was challenging before Indian courts days before he died.
In light of the continued, severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more urgent that States, including India, release every person detained without a sufficient legal basis, including those detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views. This would be in line with the Indian judiciary's calls to decongest the prisons.
We stress, once again, the High Commissioner's call on the Government of India to ensure that no one is detained for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association.
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