March 15, 2019 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
Bengaluru: Pressure from the international community is mounting on the Indian government to put an end to the crackdown on human rights work in India, Amnesty India today said.
“From USA to South Korea- thousands of people across the world have supported Amnesty International’s appeal to Indian authorities to stop crackdown on human rights defenders and civil society organisations in the country. Concerns have also been raised by UN agencies and EU parliamentarians over the deteriorating state of human rights work in India. This goes to show that the world is watching and the authorities can no longer imprison, attack, or harass human right workers with impunity,” said Aakar Patel, head of Amnesty India.
On 15 March, Amnesty India submitted a petition signed by people from across the world from 12 countries urging Indian authorities, specifically Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to end the intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders and civil society organisations, and to using repressive laws against them. The petition, launched on 15 November, 2018 was submitted to representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office in New Delhi. The international community has increased its questioning of the Indian government’s attitude towards its civil society that has led to shrinking environment for human rights work in the country. Raids against and subsequent freezing of bank accounts of Amnesty India and Greenpeace India by the Enforcement Directorate, a financial investigation agency under the Ministry of Finance are the most recent examples of the crackdown on civil society organisations.
Earlier this month, 20 Members of the European Parliament wrote to Indian authorities expressing concern and urging action. The letter states, ‘India is the largest democracy in the world, and an important strategic partner of the European Union, whereas the relationship between the two is based on shared values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. This is why we are deeply concerned at the recent crackdowns on human rights defenders and organizations across the country.’
Last December, three United Nations Special Rapporteurs (the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders) wrote to the Indian government seeking information and expressing concerns about the raids against Amnesty India and Greenpeace India.
“With the elections around the corner, Amnesty India urges all political parties to put human rights at the center of the election agenda. We will continue to urge this government and the subsequent government to implement our demands. As the world’s largest democracy, it is imperative that a global power like India walks the talk and heeds appeals from the international community. Authorities must ensure that India remains a place where dissent is encouraged and human rights workers are able to work freely and without fear”, said Aakar Patel.
There has been an increasing crackdown on civil society organizations and human rights defenders by the Government of India. In the past one year, the civil society has witnessed an increasing pattern of demonizing and criminalizing organizations and individuals, who have raised their voices against human rights violations of the poorest and most marginalized communities in India.
In October 2018, the offices of Amnesty India and Greenpeace India were raided by the Enforcement Directorate, a financial investigation agency under the Ministry of Finance, and subsequently their accounts were frozen. Amnesty India and Greenpeace India are not the only targets of the Indian government’s assault on civil society. In a series of brutal crackdowns on human rights defenders in the country from June to August 2018, ten prominent activists were arrested under a draconian counter-terrorism law—the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA)—that is often used to silence government critics. Moreover, organizations like Lawyers Collective, People’s Watch, Sabrang Trust and Navsarjan Trust, have been targeted using the draconian Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act with their licenses getting suspended or cancelled.