Indian rights activist and Jesuit priest Stan Swamy, who was arrested under an anti-terror law in the Elgar Parishad case and detained for nine months without trial, died at a Mumbai hospital on Monday, ahead of a bail hearing.

The United Nations on Tuesday said it was deeply disturbed by his death. 

“We are deeply saddened and disturbed by the death of 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy,” Liz Throssell, a spokeswoman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told reporters in Geneva.

Swamy, who campaigned for marginalised tribal communities, was arrested in October 2020 for allegedly inciting violence between different Indian castes in 2018. He was denied bail despite suffering from Parkinson’s disease and other ailments. In May, he contracted coronavirus and was admitted to the hospital, where he suffered a cardiac arrest over the weekend.

He was detained under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which effectively allows people to be held without trial indefinitely.

“High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet and the UN’s independent experts have repeatedly raised the cases of Father Stan and 15 other human rights defenders associated with the same events with the government of India over the past three years, and urged their release from pre-trial detention,” said Throssell.

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“The high commissioner has also raised concerns over the use of the UAPA in relation to human rights defenders — a law Father Stan was challenging before Indian courts days before he died.”

Throssell said that given the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries, including India, should release everyone detained without a sufficient legal basis.

“We stress, once again, the high commissioner’s call on the government of India to ensure that no one is detained for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association,” the spokeswoman said.