Co-Organized by: Front Line Defenders, Hindus for Human Rights, the Humanism Project, India Civil Watch International, and Survival International.
Co-sponsored by: Adivasi Lives Matter, Dalit Solidarity Forum, the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA), and the Indian American Muslim Council.
July 5, 2022 – Today, US Rep. Juan Vargas announced the introduction of a resolution, co-sponsored by Reps. Andre Carson and James McGovern, to honor the life of Indian human rights defender Father Stan Swamy in the US House of Representatives. The resolution, introduced on the first anniversary of Father Stan’s death in police custody, notes the use of malware to target hundreds of Indian activists and plant evidence on the devices of Father Stan’s Bhima-Koregaon case co-defendants, and expresses concern at the misuse of anti-terror laws to target rights defenders and political opponents. The announcement came at an international webinar featuring lawmakers from around the world.
The webinar, titled “Persecution of Religious Minorities and their Defenders in India: Commemorating Father Stan’s Death in Custody,” featured Rep. Vargas as well as MP Neale Hanvey (UK), MEP Alviina Alametsä (EU), Senator David Shoebridge (Australia), and UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor. Adivasi rights defenders also spoke on ongoing violations against India’s Indigenous peoples. Poet, author, and activist Dr. Meena Kandasamy moderated the event.
The webinar was co-organized by Front Line Defenders, Hindus for Human Rights, the Humanism Project, India Civil Watch International, and Survival International, and cosponsored by Adivasi Lives Matter, Dalit Solidarity Forum, the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA), and the Indian American Muslim Council. The recording of the event can be viewed here.
“I am appalled by the abuse Father Stan faced while in custody. No one who fights for human rights should face such violence and neglect,” said Rep. Vargas.
Mary Lawlor said, “If Father Stan’s life represents the best tradition of human rights defense and social justice work, his unlawful arrest and death in custody represent the rapidly accelerating assault on rights, justice, rule of law, and democracy by India’s current political regime.”
Echoing concern over these assaults, especially through the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Australian Federal Senator David Shoebridge said, “The continued erosion of human rights and the rule of law makes India a less reliable partner, economically and politically, for democratic countries like Australia. This is ultimately a tragedy for both countries.”
“We have to emphasize that we cannot have business deals, investments, and cooperation, if the issues in India are not fixed,” Member of the European Parliament Alviina Alametsä said.
All panelists noted Father Stan’s extensive service fighting for the rights of Adivasi peoples. Adivasi leader Soni Sori highlighted the continued instances of rape, incarceration, torture, and killings of Adivasis in the region of Bastar in Chhattisgarh.
Lalsu Nagoti, an Adivasi lawyers and rights activist, spoke of both the denigration of Adivasi culture by groups attempting to impose Hinduism on Adivasis, and the destruction of sacred mountains and forests by mining corporations. “This is not development, it is destruction,” he said.
Rights defender Gladson Dungdung spoke about traveling alongside Father Stan on fact finding missions when innocent Adivasis were brutally murdered by government forces. Dungdung said, “Today, if you raise your voice, demand for the enforcement of constitutional rights, demand for people-centered laws, or if you speak for your rights, all this comes under the purview of crimes in India. I am speaking today, but I don’t know what will happen tomorrow.”
UK MP Neale Hanvey took great efforts to raise the case of Stan Swamy in the UK Parliament and with the Foreign Secretary, including introducing an Early Day motion condemning the persecution of Father Stan in June 2021, and another expressing condolence for his death in July 2021.
This international condemnation comes in the wake of a new round of arrests. UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor said, “The most recent arrests of Teesta Setalvad, RB Sreekumar, and Mohammad Zubair show just how urgent it is to intervene to prevent the further deterioration of the rule of law in India.”
Remarking on the recent Wired expose linking the Pune police to the digital attacks on the Bhima Koregaon arrestees, Dr. Kandasamy said, “There is not a shred of evidence left in the case against the Bhima-Koregaon 16. They must be released immediately.”
Father Stan Bio
Father Stan Swamy was a Jesuit priest who dedicated his life to defending the rights of India’s Indigenous peoples, the Adivasis. Over more than three decades of work, Father Stan authored more than 70 books and booklets, and established Bagaicha, a research, documentation, and Adivasi training center near the city of Ranchi. As the director of the Indian Social Institute, Father Stan taught generations of Indian social workers. Father Stan was awarded the 2022 Martin Ennals prize, referred to as the “Nobel prize for Human Rights Defenders.”
Father Stan was arrested in 2020 under terrorism charges, allegedly as retaliation for his human rights work. He was then 83 years old, and suffered from Parkinson’s disease. He was repeatedly denied bail in spite of his advanced age and frail medical condition. He was treated poorly while in prison, and wrote about prison conditions and the plight of his fellow inmates while he was incarcerated.
Father Stan and his Bhima-Koregaon case co-defendants were also likely the victim of digital attacks in the form of surveillance and evidence planting. Four reports published since February 2021 by Boston-based digital forensics firm Arsenal Consulting, as well as a report published by global cybersecurity firm SentinelOne, have provided concrete proof of evidence planting on the devices of the Bhima-Koregaon accused. Last month, Wired magazine published an expose linking Pune police officials to these attacks.
Unfortunately, Father Stan passed away in custody before these revelations could have an effect on the proceedings against him.
Links to Prior Actions Around Father Stan by Parliamentarians
Members of European Parliament Pen Letter to Indian Government:
UK Parliament Early Day Motion on Father Stan Swamy a month before his passing:
Here is another Early Day Motion on the event of his passing:
Resolution in the UK Parliament in Jan 2021 that referenced Father Stan:
Rep. Juan Vargas raises Father Stan’s case with US Secretary of State Blinken:
Video of hearing “Secretary Blinken: The Biden Administration’s Priorities for U.S. Foreign Policy” (March 10, 2021): https://youtu.be/TXKwzYfBM1M
Additional Quotes from Webinar:
“[Father Stan] was harassed, jailed, and subjected to shocking treatment in prison. All of this led
to his death in custody.”
“Father Stan’s arrest and mistreatment reflects the depth of the problem with India’s justice
system, caused by the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.”
“The increase in the persecution of minorities in India is very disturbing to us in Australia.”
“As a former Jesuit myself, I am appalled by the abuse Father Stan faced while in custody. To be denied even the dignity of medical treatment was far less than he, or anyone, deserved.”
“I recently introduced a resolution in Congress to commemorate Father Stan, and to encourage an independent investigation into his death while in custody. No one who fights for human rights
should face such violence and neglect.”
“We all know what is happening to journalists in India and activists in India, and I very much hope I can visit all of you in India soon, and see what the reality is like, and raise these voices. I would like to visit the prisons, and the people who are in the most distressed situations. And if the Indian government really has nothing to hide, they will hopefully let me do that.”
[On how simply being alerted to the case of Father Stan by a constituent moved him to action]
“Why did this case matter to me? Was it really just a case of responding to a constituent? Was it about faith? Or was it about humanity and rights? What I can’t get away from is that I despise injustice, and I always seek to speak up where I see injustice. Sometimes, when we do that, it is at personal cost, and that can be no clearer than in the case of Father Swamy.”
“The chief body of evidence used to indict the arrestees in the BK-16 case, a set of letters reportedly written by some of them and naming several others, showing funding and evidence to banned Maoist groups, was reportedly remotely planted using digital malware. The planting of evidence was established through a series of reports by a reputed American digital forensics firm. Further investigation by another data security firm has traced the author of this hacking and digital planting to the prosecuting police themselves. In addition, like a vast swathe of other human rights defenders, along with their lawyers and family members, were the object of
surveillance by Pegasus spyware, implanted on their phones. The Indian government and its prosecuting agency have remained silent, refusing to take responsibility for this egregious violation of its citizens rights and privacy … and is continuing to hold the BK detainees even after the case against them has been shown to be severely compromised.”
Based on the above, I reiterate my call to the Indian authorities to immediately and
unconditionally release all those human rights defenders detained without basis as reprisal for their human rights work, especially those under trial in the BK case… upholding the judicial principle that bail should be the norm and not the exception…repeal or amend legislation documented as having being widely misused to silence human rights defenders such as the UAPA, and immediately stop using such legislation to persecute human rights defenders and quash peaceful dissent. And finally, thoroughly investigate the use of malware like Netwire and Pegasus to surveil human rights defenders and hold those responsible accountable.”