The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Thursday (October 8) arrested Ranchi-based tribal rights activist and Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy in the Elgar Parishad case, an ongoing investigation relating to the Bhima Koregaon violence in January 2018.
NIA picked up Swamy from Bagaicha, Ranchi, for allegedly conspiring to cause unrest. The investigating agencies claim that speeches made at the Parishad were partly responsible for instigating violence at Bhima Koregaon. The team has already arrested activists like Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao (81) among others and charged them under stringent provisions.
NIA had questioned 83-year-old Swamy on multiple occasions in the past, and he had denied his involvement in the case.
Anticipating his arrest, the activist had released a statement on October 6, saying he was interrogated by NIA for 15 hours during a span of five days in July and August.
“Apart from my bio-data and some factual information, several extracts allegedly taken from the computer implicating my connection to Maoist forces were placed before me. I told them all these are fabrications stealthily put into my computer and I disowned them,” he had said.
“The nature of the present NIA investigation has nothing to do with the Bhima Koregaon case in which I have been booked as a suspected accused.”
After six weeks of silence, NIA earlier this week summoned Swamy to appear before them in Mumbai. Swamy had urged the officials to interrogate him through video-conference as he couldn’t travel to the Mumbai office considering his age.
“IF NIA will refuse to consider my request and insist that I go to Mumbai, I’ll tell them that it will not be possible for me to go for the above reasons. Hoping human sense will prevail. If not, I/we must be ready to face the consequences,” he had said.
While NIA remained silent on the issue, Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha, a coalition of progressive organisations, said that NIA detained Swamy in the evening and that he was arrested later in the night.
The arrest sparked outrage and People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan Historian Ramachandra Guha among others condemned the arrest.
“PUCL would like to point out that the true reason for NIA arresting Fr. Stan Swamy today is because he had dared to expose the large-scale abuse of anti-terror and sedition laws by the previous BJP-led Jharkhand government,” it said.
It further added that thousands of Adivasis were falsely implicated and arrested for exercising their fundamental right of protest in the Pathalgadi movement and kept in prison without hearing and that is what Swamy was trying to fight.
Swamy in his statement has said what was happening to him is not unique.
“Many activists, lawyers, writers, journalists, student leaders, poets, intellectuals and others who stand for the rights of Adivasis, dalits and the marginalised and express their dissent to the ruling powers of the country are being targeted.”