The Catholic Church in Bangladesh honored the late Indian Jesuit priest, Stanislaus Lourduswamy, known as Stan Swamy, calling him a “gentle giant who walked miles” with indigenous peoples for 60 years.
“Father Stan Swamy was attentive to the needs of the poor communities, filled with courage and determination,” read a statement signed by Bishop Gervas Rozario, chairman of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace of the country’s bishops’ conference.
The prelate said the late Indian Jesuit “dedicated his life as a priest and human rights defender to the preferential option for the poor …. [He] embodied the strong prophetic mission of the Church in India, as well as in global community.”
“Father Stan Swamy is a martyr, and a saintly example for us. He fought and died for justice and human rights for the least, last and lost brothers and sisters in our Common Home,” read the statement.
“We, the Catholic Church of Bangladesh, are deeply saddened by the death in custody of Father Stan Swamy,” read the statement from the Bangladesh Church’s Justice and Peace body.
“We continue to stand in solidarity with Father Stan Swamy and we call for full accountability for his death while we demand justice,” it added. “His example, good works, spirit, courage and kindness will not be forgotten and will continue to inspire.”
Father Swamy died on July 5 in a hospital in India. He was 84.
The priest has been in detention since last year after he was arrested for terror-related offenses under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Indian authorities alleged that the priest supported the cause of banned communist groups through his civil rights organizations.
Authorities tagged the priest’s Persecuted Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee, a human rights organization, as a front organization of Maoist and extremist groups.
The Bagaicha, an organization established by Father Swamy to empower the tribal group Adivbasis, was also tagged as a communist front.
Father Swamy is the oldest person in India to face terror-related charges and he has joined 15 others including human rights activists, journalists and scholars arrested in connection to a 2018 incident of caste-based violence known locally as the Bhima Koregaon case.
The priest’s supporters said he is being branded as an anti-nationalist and was jailed because he was fighting for the implementation of laws passed by the parliament for tribal people and their constitutional rights.
On Oct. 26 last year, the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences called for his immediate release; following a similar statement issued by Indian bishops.
India’s National Crime Records Bureau showed that as many as 5,922 people were held under the country’s Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act between 2016-2019, with only 132 convictions.
The draconian law has come under severe criticism from international observers in recent years, as has India’s human rights record since the Bharatiya Janata Party came into power.
In a recent “Freedom in the World Report 2021” by Freedom House, the country was downgraded from “free” to “partly free” for the first time.