Vigil for Stan Swamy

June 20, 2023

This morning (20th June 2023) staff at the Indian High Commission in London refused to engage with Jesuits priests and laypeople who attempted to hand in a petition calling for justice for a priest who died of Covid whilst in Indian custody.

While the High Commissioner visited Trafalgar Square to view the celebrations marking the International Day of Yoga, British Jesuits and their supporters marched to the Indian High Commission in Aldwych where they held a peaceful vigil and then attempted to hand in a petition containing thousands of signatures calling for justice for Father Stan Swamy SJ.

However, as Met police officers looked on at the peaceful protest, Commission staff went through their own contortions as they refused to answer the door, or accept the petition.

Fr Stan, an Indian Jesuit priest and activist who spent five decades fighting for indigenous rights in the state of Jharkhand, died of Covid-19 in July 2021 after spending 7 months in an Indian prison. The 84 year-old was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease and was the oldest person to be accused of terrorism in India.

Fr Stan was imprisoned under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for crimes against the government of India and his supposed involvement in violence surrounding the 2018 Bhima Koregaon protests. While in custody, prison authorities were criticised for denying him access to basic amenities such as a straw and sipper - which he needed to drink water because of hand tremors caused by Parkinson's. In December 2022, Massachusetts-based digital forensics firm Arsenal Consulting reported the results of its investigation into the evidence which had led to Fr Swamy’s arrest and imprisonment. The report concluded that Fr Swamy was systematically targeted in a cyber campaign over a four-year period during which time falsified evidence was planted on the priest’s computer.

As we approach the second anniversary of Fr Stan’s death, pressure continues to mount on the Indian authorities to explain why he was imprisoned, why he was denied appropriate care for his Parkinson’s Disease while in custody, and how the incriminating files came to be placed on his computer by persons unknown. On June 13th, Simon Fell MP raised the treatment of Fr Stan with the Foreign Office minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan in Parliament. The United Nations has called Fr Stan’s death “a stain on India’s human rights record”. Rahul Gandhi tweeted that "he deserved justice and humaneness".

Fr Stan’s willingness to stand with the poor and excluded eventually cost him his life. Today, we are urging our supporters to stand in solidarity with Stan by signing our petition which calls on the Indian government to clear the name of this innocent man, based on the new evidence. We ask you to stand in solidarity with Stan and activists in Jharkhand where the petition has already received 10,000 signatures. You can sign the petition here.

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