NGOs come out in support of India’s Lawyers Collective

June 27, 2019

UPDATE 11 July: https://www.news18.com/news/india/cbi-raids-senior-lawyers-indira-jaising-anand-grovers-home-offices-for-violating-foreign-funding-norms-2225819.html
On 26 June 2019, a group of 10 major NGOs issued a joint statement to the Indian Government that it should withdraw criminal charges against the NGO ‘Lawyers Collective’ and its representatives.They strongly condemn the filing of criminal charges against Indian NGO ‘Lawyers Collective’, its President, Senior Advocate Anand Grover, and other representatives. Criminal charges were filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on June 13, 2019, relying on an investigation report of January 2016 of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The MHA report has been challenged by Lawyers Collective in January 2017 and the case is under consideration by the High Court of Bombay.Lawyers Collective is a human rights organisation based in New Delhi with its registered office in Mumbai and was founded by noted Indian human rights defenders and lawyers Ms Indira Jaising and Mr Anand Grover. Ms Jaising and Mr Grover are senior advocates with an exceptional profile of public service, probity and personal and professional integrity as lawyers and as human rights defenders. Ms Jaising was an Additional Solicitor General of India between 2009 and 2014, and was also a member of the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) between 2009 and 2012. Mr Grover held the mandate of UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health between 2008 and 2014. Ms Jaising and Mr Grover, through Lawyers Collective, have advocated for advancing the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised sections of Indian society, thereby upholding constitutional values as enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

Lawyers Collective’s registration under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010 (FCRA) was first suspended on May 31, 2016, and its bank accounts frozen. The FCRA license was not renewed on October 28, 2016, and was cancelled on November 27, 2016. Lawyers Collective petitioned the High Court of Bombay to challenge the FCRA cancellation and non-renewal in January 2017 and March 2017, respectively. In January 2017, its domestic accounts were unfrozen. Lawyers Collective’s challenge to the FCRA cancellation and non-renewal are currently pending before the High Court.

Filing of criminal charges while the matter is under consideration by the High Court is a blatant misuse of its agencies by the Indian Government to target critical human rights work undertaken by Lawyers Collective and its representatives, often involving sensitive cases against Indian ministers and senior officials of the ruling political party.

On May 15, 2019, the MHA wrote to CBI for ‘further investigation as per law’ into the matter relating to Lawyers Collective. On June 13, 2019, the CBI solely relying on the impugned MHA report registered a First Information Report under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) relating to charges of criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust, cheating, false statement made in declaration and various sections under the FCRA and Prevention of Corruption (PC) Act 1988. Given that there has been no change in circumstances since 2016 and also no material or evidential basis to support the provisions invoked under the IPC and PC Act, the filing of criminal charges is a blatant act of reprisal against Lawyers Collective and its representatives.

Such actions by the Indian Government are contrary to its pledge at the UN Human Rights Council and its obligations and commitments under several international human rights treaties and declarations. The FCRA has been time and again criticised by human rights defenders and NGOs within and outside India for its regressive and unfair interference in the functioning of organisations. Indian human rights defenders have condemned the use of FCRA and the accusations of “foreign funding” to quash dissent and smear individuals and groups.

In his analysis of the FCRA in 2016, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Assembly and Association Maina Kiai concluded that certain provisions of FCRA were not in conformity with international human rights law and noted that “access to resources, including foreign funding, is a fundamental part of the right to freedom of association under international law, standards, and principles, and more particularly part of forming an association”. In June 2016 Kiai joined the UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders calling on the Government of India to repeal the regressive FCRA, which was being used to “silence organisations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the Government.”

We strongly call upon the Indian Government to cease misusing the country’s laws, including the FCRA, against human rights defenders. In the specific case of Lawyers Collective, we urge the criminal charges be immediately withdrawn pending the decision of the High Court of Bombay. We appeal to the National Human Rights Commission of India to take cognizance of this matter and take immediate actions under the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 (PHRA) and to undertake a legal review of the FCRA under Section 12 (d) of the PHRA.

We further call upon the Indian Government to put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Lawyers Collective and Mr Anand Grover, as well as against all human rights defenders in India and ensure that they are able to carry out their activities without hindrance.

Signatory organizations:

Amnesty International
CIVICUS
Forum Asia
Front Line Defenders
Human Rights Defenders Alert
Human Rights Watch
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

——————————————————-

Pamela Philipose in The Wire gives a more detailed report: Backstory: Shrinking Spaces Need Expanding of Awareness; First they come for the human rights activists, and then they come for the defenders of human rights activists…

The filing by the CBI of a criminal case against the Lawyers Collective, a prominent legal resource organisation with a national and international reputation, has a significance that goes beyond the hounding of two prominent legal personalities, Indira Jaising and Anand Grover (‘After CBI Files FIR, Lawyers Collective Calls It an Attack on Free Speech’, June 18). It may well be a foretaste of what the new government has in store for those who stand up against state repression, or seek to expose malfeasance within the political, corporate and personal spaces.

The message could not have been clearer: the crackdowns that we witnessed in the first tenure of the Modi government – from the cancellation of registrations of hundreds of thousands of civil rights organisations to the incarceration under a draconian law of those supposedly linked to the Bhima Koregaon violence through elaborate police chargesheets – could manifest themselves with redoubled force during the second.

Also Read: After CBI Files FIR, Lawyers Collective Calls It an Attack on Free Speech

Significantly, this attempt to silence Jaising and Grover comes at a time when the independence of the judiciary is under tremendous strain from an executive seeking to bend the bench to its will (‘Centre’s Refusal to Elevate Justice Kureshi Raises Troubling Questions’, June 21). We have already seen a whistle blower police officer, critical of Narendra Modi, getting life imprisonment in Gujarat (‘Sanjiv Bhatt Case: In 16 Years, Gujarat Saw 180 Custodial Deaths – and Zero Convictions‘, June 21). The Gujarat dimension is conspicuous in all these instances, but there have been others like a rapper being hauled up for ‘sedition’ for her social media posts (‘Rapper Hard Kaur Charged With Sedition for Posts Against Adityanath, Bhagwat’, June 20) and journalists being thrown into Adityanath’s jails like hardened criminals (‘Editorial: The Yogi as Commissar‘, June 11).

Taken together, these recent occurrences may seem disparate in nature but point in the direction of an increasingly repressive state. This move to crush Lawyers Collective, when taken together with the arrest of the human rights defenders implicated in the Bhima Koregoan case, seems powered by a drive to wipe out human rights activism in the country.

Just a cursory look at the numerous petitions expressing outrage over the CBI move indicates the broad swathe of human rights Lawyers Collective has been involved in. Jaising and Grover have contributed significantly to changing the architecture of law and justice delivery in this country.

A petition from People’s Union of Civil Liberties, unequivocally condemned the move as a “brazen abuse of the process of law”, and noted that the organisation had “taken up important cases throughout the 38 years of their existence. In a separate statement, women activists recalled how “Indira Jaising, since the 1980s, has unwaveringly stood by the Constitution’s Fundamental Rights”, whether involving herself in the changes made to rape laws in 1983, securing inheritance rights for women as in the Mary Roy case, securing guardianship for single women in the Githa Hariharan case, battling sexual harassment in the Rupan Deol Bajaj case and campaigning for the formulation and enactment of the Domestic Violence Act.

Anand Grover and Indira Jaising.

It also applauded the battle Anand Grover has waged for over for two decades on behalf of the LGBTQI+ community in 2001 when a Public Interest Litigation was filed against Section 377 (IPC) and the way he “represented the Cancer Patients Aid Association and individuals against the patenting and pricing of drugs”, playing a key role in the formulation of The Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Prevention and Control) Act, 2017.

LGBTQI+ citizens, groups, collectives, and organisations iterated that the Lawyers Collective has been central to “the very story of the movement against Section 377 of the IPC”; while the Bebaak Collective, representing a large section of Muslim women, underlined the fact that the “two most significant legal cases in recent times” involved the Lawyers Collective articulating the intrinsic rights of Muslim women in the triple talaq and female genital mutilation cases.

These petitions – and there were many others emerging from bodies of international human rights activists to national and international intellectuals – indicate that there is rising alarm over the way political elites in India are seeking to consolidate themselves through the capture and control of the institutions of power. But these petitions also indicate that information, such as the life’s work of Jaising and Grover, is not known beyond small professional and activist groups. Consequently, the dynamic to defend such work also remains confined to these circles.

This must change. The Jaising-Grover legacy needs to be taken to a new generation of Indians who may be unfamiliar with cases fought aeons ago, but needs to realise that their everyday rights have got strengthened because of stalwarts such as them. It is precisely in times of shrinking spaces that the attempt to build popular awareness on human rights and their defenders should take place.

The media has a major role in achieving this and that is why pieces such as ‘Documenting Anand Grover, Indira Jaising’s Fight for Human Rights Over the Years’ (June 20), are valuable. The point to remind ourselves as journalists is this: in many profound ways, the work of both journalists and lawyers, while having separate pathways, are both concerned with the investigation; argumentation on, and exposure of, wrong doing; and the delivery of justice. This makes it incumbent upon the media to closely follow the Lawyers Collective issue in the days and months ahead, because of the tremendous consequence it holds for justice delivery and human rights in India.

national human rights commission, nhrc, cbi, fcra, Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, fcra violations, india news, Indian ExpressNHRC said it had made it clear in the past that matters relating to FCRA violations are outside its purview.

The direction came on complaints filed by Henri Tiphagne, a human rights activist associated with Human Rights Defenders’ Alert and Maja Daruwala, Senior Advisor of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

https://thewire.in/media/backstory-shrinking-spaces-need-expanding-of-awareness

Express News Service

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