Christian leaders ask President, PM to ensure bail for elderly Fr Swamy

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Members of United Christian Forum stage a silent protest on November 17 in Belagavi town in Karnataka seeking immediate release of jailed Jesuit Father Stan Swamy.

Christian leaders have urged the Indian president and Prime Minister to help release of Father Stan Swamy on bail. The 84-year-old Jesuit priest, who is under detention since October 8, wrote to a colleague, saying his deteriorating health has rendered him unable to eat or drink, without help from jail inmates.

A delegation led by Belgaum Bishop Derek Fernandes handed over separate memoranda addressed to President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the deputy commissioner of Belagavi district in the southern state of Karnataka on November 17.

The Christian leaders sought the Indian leaders’ intervention for the release of the elderly Father Stan Swamy. The NIA arrested the octogenarian priest on October 8 on alleged sedition charges and having links with a banned Maoist group. Fr Swamy has been in jail since then, and been denied bail twice.

“We want immediate release of Father Stan Swamy on bail. His health is deteriorating because of his advanced age,” the Christian leaders said.

On Tuesday, more than 200 people, under the banner of the United Christian Forum, staged a silent demonstration in Belagavi town, before handing over the memoranda to the district official.

“We are pained, and we are concerned of his health. Father Swamy, in a letter to one of his colleagues (priest) stated that he needed help from others for eating, drinking, and carrying out other personal needs,” Bishop Fernandes told UCA News on Wednesday.

Fr Swamy begged for straw, but court didn’t respond

The court has not yet responded to Father Swamy’s November 6 application to allow him to use a sipper and straw, as he could not consume liquids naturally because of Parkinson’s disease. The court has posted its next hearing for November 26.

In the letter to his Jesuit colleague, the priest said he lives in a cell of about 13 feet x 8 feet. Two more inmates are with him in the same room.

“It has a small bathroom and a toilet with an Indian commode. Fortunately, I got a western commode chair. People arrested on the same charges, Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira, are in another cell,” the letter said.

“During the day, when cells and barracks are opened, we meet each other. From 5.30pm to 6am, and from noon to 3pm, I get locked up in my cell, with two inmates,” Father Swamy wrote.

“Arun assists me to have my breakfast and lunch. Vernon helps me with the bath. My two roommates help out during supper in washing my clothes and giving massage to my knee joints.”

“My roommates are from very poor families. Please remember my inmates and my colleagues in your prayers. Despite all odds, humanity is bubbling in Taloja prison in Maharashtra state,” the letter said.

‘Don’t drop charges’

The priest was among the 16 social activists and lawyers whom the NIA arrested under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

The case linked them to a violent incident in Bhima-Koregaon, a town in Maharashtra, on January 1, 2018. One person died and several others suffer injuries in the incident.

His Jesuit colleague Father Seby Pereira said Swamy was already suffering from age-related issues and many other diseases including Parkinson.

The Christian leaders said, “Although we know that Father Swamy is innocent, we are not asking to drop his case.”

“We are only seeking bail on health grounds. We know he has not committed any crime. But we are not asking to drop all charges. Let the probe agency continue its probe. We want him released on bail, so that we can take care of his health,” Father Pereira said.

All the arrested activists have questioned the policies of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India.

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