Mihir Desai said he will continue demanding a thorough investigation into the circumstances leading to Father Stan Swamy’s death, and continue to pursue bail for the other 15 accused in the Elgar Parishad case.

A picture of lawyer Mihir Desai on the left and father Stan Swamy on the right
news Law Wednesday, July 07, 2021 - 16:07

On July 5, even as the Bombay High Court convened an urgent hearing for Father Stan Swamy’s bail on medical grounds, in view of his deteriorating health, Dr Ian D’Souza of Holy Family Hospital told the court that the Jesuit priest passed away at 1.24 pm that day. Stan Swamy was on the ventilator for almost 48 hours prior. Father Stan’s lawyer Mihir Desai asked the court to order a judicial inquiry into the circumstances of his death, which many have called a custodial death. The request was denied. However, in the course of the arrest of the 84-year-old in October 2020 and his subsequent incarceration, there were several violations of norms and protocols, alleged his lawyer.

Speaking to TNM, Mihir Desai said this is the only case he has seen where a person was arrested but no custodial questioning was carried out. Mihir Desai is a lawyer who has worked extensively on cases of human rights violations. From cases related to the 2002 Gujarat riots to working for Adivasis on their land rights, Mihir Desai has represented several cases involving political activists, police brutality, custodial deaths and mass disappearances.

Father Stan Swamy was arrested on October 4, 2020, from his residence in Ranchi. He was arrested in the Elgar Parishad case under the draconian anti-terror law, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). In their 10,000-page chargesheet, the NIA accused him of being a Maoist sympathiser and ‘accomplishing the agenda of the banned organisation in the garb of working on tribal rights.’ In their affidavit, the NIA told the Bombay HC that they had evidence of Father Stan’s ‘direct involvement in the deep-rooted conspiracy having a direct bearing on the Elgar Parishad incident.’ 

Read: Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad: A timeline of events

“There was absolutely no custodial interrogation. There was interrogation only before his arrest but not a single day after,” said Mihir Desai on Father’s Stan’s arrest. “If they had any further questions, they could have gone for custodial interrogation but they clearly did not have anything else to ask him,” he added. 

“Before the arrest, they had asked him about something on his computer. That is the same thing they did with everyone, planting evidence on their computers. This is a witch hunt, so it is just an extension,” says Desai, referring to the line of questioning employed by the NIA before his arrest.

During his incarceration, the NIA, which took over the case of the Elgar Parishad investigation from the Pune police on January 24, 2020, had repeatedly opposed bail to the 84-year-old human rights activist. “According to the NIA, because the arrest was under UAPA, Father Stan was a dangerous person who is a national threat to security. So they kept opposing the bail. They kept saying he was some mastermind. NIA blindly opposes every bail. They even opposed a sipper,” Desai said. 

Read: Release all detained without enough legal basis: UN tells India after Stan Swamy’s death

On November 6, 2020, the legal counsel of Father Stan Swamy had requested the court straw and sipper as he was not able to drink water because of Parkinson’s disease. NIA asked for 20 days to respond. On November 26, the investigation agency told the NIA special court that they were not in possession of Father Stan’s straw and sipper. After much outrage across the country, Father Stan was given a straw-sipper. While he waited for the same, his fellow inmates helped him drink water and eat food. 

“If you look at the prisons’ rules, they must have ward boys and nurses, but this is not the case in Taloja Jail,” alleged Mihir Desai. “If somebody falls sick, they just get other inmates to help. While the inmates comply, they are not trained. While every central prison is required to have a hospital, in Taloja, there is no facility for blood tests,” he added. 

Father Stan was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, severe lower back pain, bilateral hearing loss, arthritis and several other age-related ailments. In the run-up to his admission to the Holy Family Hospital on May 24, for at least 10 days, he was suffering from fever, weakness and several symptoms of COVID-19 but was not admitted even once. He was taken to the JJ Hospital on May 18 and 19 but did not get treatment for COVID-19. 

Read: India defends handling of Stan Swamy case, rebuts criticism after his death

“JJ Hospital, they did not do an RT-PCR test on him. They did a Rapid Antigen Test on him, the result of which had come negative,” said Mihir Desai. Antigen tests could give false negatives or false positives in COVID-19 tests. “The NIA opposed his hospitalisation even in a government hospital. It is not NIA’s business to interfere in what happens during prison custody. If the prison administration feels that somebody should be admitted, it is for them to decide. The investigation agency comes into the picture only when it comes to granting bail, not when it comes to giving treatment to a prisoner either inside or outside the prison,” he added, highlighting another lapse of the procedure. 

The Taloja jail has 3,251 inmates and just three doctors to treat them. “There were three Ayurvedic doctors in the prison hospital, which is what they called ample expertise. They just gave him some strong antibiotics and that was the main treatment given to Stan Swamy,” Desai said. 

Mihir Desai says he will continue demanding a thorough investigation into the circumstances leading to the death of Father Stan, and continue strongly pursuing bail for the other 15 accused in the Elgar Parishad case. 

“We are still recovering from what happened to Father Stan. We will definitely pursue something to seek an investigation into the circumstances of his death. This is not just for him but for the larger cause. We fear for the health of everybody arrested in the case as most of them have some morbidity or the other. Anand Teltumbde is nearing 70 years,” said Mihir Desai. 

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