A federal American body has condemned the "deliberate neglect" by the government of India that it said led to the death of Jesuit priest Stan Swamy.
Stan Swamy, 84, who was arrested last year under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in connection with the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case, died at a Mumbai hospital on Monday.
"Father Stan Swamy's death is a stark reminder of the egregious and ongoing persecution of India's religious minority communities," Nadine Maenza, chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in a statement on Wednesday.
The USCIRF condemns "in strongest terms the deliberate neglect and targeting by the government of India that led to the death of Father Stan Swamy," it said.
Nadine Maenza urged the United States to "hold the Indian government accountable and to raise religious freedom concerns in the US-India bilateral relationship."
Rejecting mounting international criticism over the handling of the case of Swamy, India on Tuesday said the concerned authorities act against violations of law and do not restrain the legitimate exercise of rights.
The Ministry of External Affairs said India remains committed to the promotion and protection of the human rights of all its citizens and that the country's democratic polity is complemented by an independent judiciary and a range of national and state-level human rights commissions.
"Swamy was arrested and detained by the National Investigation Agency following due process under the law. Because of the specific nature of charges against him, his bail applications were rejected by the courts. Authorities in India act against violations of law and not against legitimate exercise of rights. All such actions are strictly in accordance with the law," the MEA said in a statement in New Delhi.
It said Swamy was receiving all possible medical attention at a private hospital where he was admitted since May 28. His health and medical treatment were being closely monitored by the courts. He passed away on July 5 following medical complications.
"India remains committed to promotion and protection of human rights of all its citizens," the ministry said in response to media queries.
India had earlier rejected its criticism by the USCIRF, terming its observations on the condition of minorities and religious freedom in the country as "biased and tendentious".
The MEA had termed the USCIRF as an "organisation of particular concern" in 2020 and said it will treat it accordingly.
USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava said that the commission is deeply saddened and appalled by the death of Swamy.
"For years, he fought for the rights and dignity of low-caste and poor people across India," she said.
"Father Swamy died in the custody of Indian authorities who targeted him for giving voice to the human rights concerns of Adivasis and other low-caste, religious and poor communities," she said.
"The Indian government held him for these past months, without any trial or conviction, despite lack of credible evidence on the charges filed against him, his deteriorating health, and global calls for his release," Mr Bhargava added.