Posts Tagged ‘India’

India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka are all in the same rickety boat when it comes to human rights

December 17, 2020

TRT World published a summary of a report by the South Asia Collective “India and Pakistan no different on how they treat minorities”. Please note that Turkish Radio and Television Corporation is the national public broadcaster of Turkey. One looks there in vain for information on human rights violations in Turkey itself. Still the report referred to (produced with the financial support of the European Union and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation) is of interest:

The past ten years have been abysmal for minorities and civil rights activists in South Asian countries including India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, according to the South Asia State of Minorities Report 2020. 

Governments have introduced repressive laws that curb freedom of expression, persecute journalists and bar people from organising peaceful demonstrations, says the report published by the South Asia Collective, an international group of activists and NGOs. Some laws disproportionately target minorities such as Muslims in India and Sri Lanka, and Christians in Pakistan.  One policy that transcends almost all the regional governments is their attempt to restrict the role of NGOs – especially if they receive funding  from abroad. 

India, where minorities have faced state-sanctioned violence since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was re-elected last year, has handicapped foreign NGOs by setting limits on how they can spend money received from international donors.  Most of the affected NGOs are the ones that work in areas which highlight abuse of power, government indifference towards the plight of minorities, and the brutality of security forces. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/06/istanbul-court-jails-four-human-rights-defenders-on-terror-charges-seven-acquitted/]

“BJP rule has been characterised by the open targeting of several high-profile NGOs, with foreign funding freezes being the weapon of choice,” the report said. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/29/amnesty-feels-forced-to-shut-sown-its-india-office-amidst-govenment-pressure/]

New Delhi's discriminatory amendment to citizenship law has further alienated India's Muslims.
New Delhi’s discriminatory amendment to citizenship law has further alienated India’s Muslims. (AP Archive)

Other policy changes such as requiring NGOs to register with income tax authorities every five years are a similar tool of “administrative harassment”. ..

The intimidation is not limited to NGOs as journalists reporting on creeping BJP authoritarianism often feel the wrath of the state.   “…between 25 March and 31 May 2020, at least 55 Indian journalists faced arrest, physical assaults, destruction of property, threats or registration of FIRs (police reports),” the report said. 

New Delhi increasingly relies on internet controls to curb dissent. Internet shutdowns jumped to 106 in 2019 from only six in 2014 as authorities used different laws to control the flow of information.  Kashmir faced a complete internet blackout for months after the Muslim-majority region’s nominal autonomy was withdrawn last year…

India is also using the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act to target Dalits, a caste of Hindus who face widespread discrimination under the country’s hierarchical caste system… Changes in the Citizenship Act that target Muslim migrants and the brutal police reponse to subsequent protests — in which 22 people were shot dead in Utter Pradesh state in a single day — further illustrate the worsening status of minorities in India. 

In neighbouring Pakistan, India’s archrival, minorities and those activists trying to help them, fare no better. 

“NGOs and INGOs (international NGOs) are subject to extensive regulation involving multiple, lengthy procedures of registration, security clearance, and approvals for funding,” the report said.

The Christians and Hindus in Pakistan regularly complain that young girls are forced to convert to Islam.
The Christians and Hindus in Pakistan regularly complain that young girls are forced to convert to Islam. (AP Archive)

In recent years, Islamabad has increased vigilance on NGOs which it fears might be working on a foreign agenda to promote dissent.  What will particularly bother Pakistan’s policymakers is the report’s focus on how the country’s Blasphemy Law, meant to protect religious sentiments, continues to be misused against minorities. 

In reality, the law explicitly discriminates against Ahmadiyas since parts of it criminalise public expression of Ahmadiya beliefs and prohibit Ahmadiyas from calling themselves Muslims, praying in Muslim sites of worship and propagating their faith.”  Just this week, a report by the United States Commission on International Rights Freedom pointed out that Pakistan accounts for nearly half of the incidents of mob violence against alleged blasphemers.  

At times, people accused of blasphemy are killed in court in front of police and lawyers.   Christians, another minority, are frequently targeted while authorities do little to protect them.  For instance, a church constructed in the Toba Tek Singh district of Punjab province had to be sealed in 2016 after local Muslims agitated against it.  This alienation doesn’t stop at the places of worship – young Chrsitan students are continuously harassed by their peers to convert to Islam, the report said. 

Similarly, Sri Lanka witnessed rising levels of intolerance towards minorities in recent years, especially as successive governments tried to pacify extremist Buddhists to garner their votes.  Muslims in Sri Lanka have felt a wave of discrimination and official apathy after the suicide attacks that killed more than 200 people last year.  “After the Easter attacks, Muslims, particularly a large number of Muslim men, were arrested seemingly without reasonable cause.” Jingoistic government-aligned media has helped paint Muslims as the villain in Sri Lanka. 

The incitement of hatred and vitriol by media outlets continues unabated. For example, Muslim Covid-19 patients were identified by their faith, unlike other patients, and blamed by the media for spreading coronavirus.” 

https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/india-and-pakistan-no-different-on-how-they-treat-minorities-42419

For 30 years Parveena Ahangar has fought for justice against disappearances in Kashmir

November 30, 2020

Parveena Ahangar
Parveena Ahangar

Several weeks ago authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir raided the home and offices of Parveena Ahangar, a local human rights defender, over alleged “terrorist funding,” sending shockwaves in NGOs operating in the region. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/09/30/parveena-ahangar-and-parvez-imroz-in-kashmir-awarded-rafto-prize-2017/]

The “iron lady of Kashmir” said that in 30 years of activism, the October raid by the Indian National Investigation Agency was the first time such brazen action was taken against her, calling it “saddening.”

On the eve of International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, Anadolu Agency spoke with Ahangar, who is chair and founder of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), a group seeking justice for victims of enforced disappearances in the Indian-administered region.

“For the last three decades, nobody has raised questions on my work and integrity. This is for the first time that the Indian Investigating Agency wants to prove otherwise, but I will not budge what I am committed to before my God,” Ahangar said in her office in Srinagar.

In 2017, the Indian National Investigation Agency started pursuing a case against pro-freedom activists and groups, claiming that they were getting money from undisclosed sources and using it to fund terrorist activities Since then, many raids have been carried out across the region..

Ahangar’s son, Javed Ahmed Ahangar, was abducted Aug. 18, 1990, by the Indian army and consequently disappeared. He was a Class 11 student at the time. Overtaken with grief, she looked long and hard to find him, but to no avail. She took the legal route and filed various petitions, but that did not help.

In 1994, she formed the association of Parents of Disappeared Persons when the government and every other institution failed to deliver justice in her son’s case and other victims.

I am myself a sufferer. My 18-year-old son who was abducted by the Indian Army in 1990 has not been returned to me, and there are hundreds of mothers who are still waiting for their sons but have not been returned. I’m fighting for the return of our sons,” said Ahangar.

She said for four years she fought the legal battle to find his whereabouts. “I saw hundreds of mothers waiting at the doors of these institutions pleading for the same but the reply used to come ‘untraced’ with no accountability. Where are our sons, I am asking the Indian government.”

According to APDP figures, 8,000-10,000 people in the disputed region have disappeared with no trace.

In an in-depth peer-reviewed study, Lubna Mohiuddin (1997) observed that despite no formal declaration of a state of emergency, the presence of Indian troops in the region shot up from 0.15 million in 1990 to 0.7 million by 1997, which aggravated human rights abuses in the region.

“Despite India being a signatory of multiple international covenants, charters and declarations, violence in Kashmir continues to occur in the form of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests, tortures, burning of houses, and gang-rapes,” the study said.

On Aug. 5, 2019, when India scrapped the limited autonomy of the Jammu and Kashmir region, the APDP documented the Kashmir region as going through one of the worst forms of state authoritarianism and high handedness.

“The Indian Government has continuously asserted that ‘normalcy’ has been returned to Kashmir. But, the testimonies and ground level reports indicate the contrary, as there are still severe restrictions and curtailment of basic human rights of the residents of the Kashmir region,” according to the report.

Ahangar says if India thinks “by taking out raids at my home or at my office will stop me from doing what I have been doing for the last 30 years, it will not happen. I have been hardened by the pain and grief after hearing thousands of stories of people who have been trampled under the foot of oppression for so long.

If I am asking for protection of my and their rights, what wrong I am committing?” she said. “It is a long battle to go. If I have to stand alone, I will and nothing by the grace of God can deter me from doing that.”

On the tenth of every month, the APDP used to hold a sit-in-protest to demand justice against enforced disappearances but after the abrogation of special status and the current pandemic crisis, it has been suspended.

——

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/parveena-ahangar-a-story-of-courage-from-kashmir/2059667

https://www.yenisafak.com/en/world/parveena-ahangar-a-story-of-courage-from-kashmirs-iron-lady-3555432

Profile interview with Ahmer Khan, a journalist from J&K with a mission

November 4, 2020

On 18 October 2020 the Week published an interesting interview with Ahmer Khan, an award winning multimedia journalist under the title: “Covering other humanitarian stories helped me process the trauma of J&K, my homeland’’

ahmer-khan Ahmer Khan, multimedia journalist from Kashmir

Ahmer Khan is an award-winning, multimedia journalist from Kashmir. He was nominated for the Emmys 2020 for the Vice News film, India Burning, which focused on the plight of the 200 million Muslims in the country after the rise of Hindu nationalism. Khan is also the recipient of numerous awards, including the Lorenzo Natali Media Prize by European Commission 2018, AFP Kate Webb Prize 2019, and the Human Rights Press Award 2020. He is also among the finalists for the Rory Peck Award 2020. He has contributed to major international publications such as The New York Times, The Guardian, TIME, Al-Jazeera, Radio France International,, The Christian Science Monitor and Vice News, among others. Khan talks to THE WEEK about his career and what it is to be a journalist in Kashmir.

Edited excerpts:

Was it the camera or telling stories through visuals that you were attracted to? 

Well, it was a little bit of both. Kashmir and photography are directly proportional to each other. First, I used to click pictures with a Sony Ericson handset. But I always knew what I was going to do in future. So I studied journalism and worked simultaneously.   

What exactly did your work consist of in ‘India Burning’? 

..I was a local producer of the film and I shot some parts of the film as well. My responsibility was to take care of everything in Assam. From set-up to the execution.

Is there a reason why you work with international media rather than the national media?  

Yes, of course. I have never worked with any Indian organisation purposely. I did not want my stories to get distorted and manipulated the way editors of most of the Indian organisations do. I am grateful that I have found work elsewhere because there is too much saturation and it is hard for stories to get accepted anywhere now.  

How did you establish your name in the industry? 

I think I chose to report outside Kashmir from the beginning. I didn’t restrict myself to Kashmir or even India. I have reported from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. That is something not everyone does.  

Has living amidst the conflict in Kashmir, in any way, affected you as a person and as a journalist?

Our home is a dystopian state. We all have had encounters affecting our lives forever. My father passed away when I was 10 years old. I think every job/assignment in Kashmir is scary. The fear of uncertainty is always there. 

You deal with more humanitarian stories, you are always in the middle of conflict and turbulence, you report on natural disasters and political disruptions. What is it that drives you to this beat? 

It all comes from the basic human tendency of wanting to explore more of what you have grown up seeing. I grew up in the ’90s in Kashmir when the turmoil was at its peak and then I witnessed the uprising from 2008, 2010 and the following years. I, like any other Kashmiri, witnessed young Kashmiris being killed, tortured and extreme human rights violations on the streets. It is too much to handle and process, but when one looks at the other side of the world, we see pain everywhere and start being grateful for what we have. I think for me, covering other humanitarian stories helped me process the daily trauma of my own homeland.  

How is covering stories in Kashmir different from other places in India?

In Kashmir, everything is way too personal. At times, we have to cover the stories while looking at the dead bodies of our own people. It is hard to keep aside your human side. But covering other human rights stories elsewhere and in mainland India, including Assam and Delhi has surely strengthened me more. Although, in Kashmir, it is getting extremely difficult to work freely as days pass. There is a constant fear of being muzzled for telling the truth. And, I think it’s happening across the South Asian countries.

You deal with a lot of life-threatening situations, you have also been harassed by the authorities. How does that make you feel? 

Most people in the media in Kashmir have faced harassment and intimidation by the state. We have recently seen journalists being booked in stringent terror laws. We are living through one of the most dangerous periods of all times for the Kashmiri press to work. It is natural to feel worried. There is a continuous fear of life for all of us. .. 

You identify yourself as a multimedia journalist. How is covering a story through writing, photography and videography different? 

I am quintessentially a photographer and videographer. I started writing because I know the media nowadays is shrinking into one multimedia space. One skill isn’t enough. So the work adds. When you go to cover the story, you have to shoot, take quotes, video interviews and also make sure that you have got all aspects of the story in terms of text, video and photos. It is hard work but satisfactory in many ways. I also do radio stories. In fact, my Lorenzo Natali Media award was for my first radio story for Radio France International. Being a freelance journalist, you have to keep up with the demands of editors as there is a lot of uncertainty. 

What do you have to say about the mainstream journalism that is turning blasphemous? 

What they are doing is not journalism. It is dangerous and authoritarian. If a journalist does not report about the oppressed, undermined or underprivileged, he or she is just doing PR. …

https://www.theweek.in/leisure/society/2020/10/18/covering-other-humanitarian-stories-helped-me-process-the-trauma-of-jandk-my-homeland.html

Also UN calls on India to protect human rights defenders

October 29, 2020

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has called for the Indian government to protect the rights of human rights defenders and NGOs in India. She praised India for being at the forefront of the fight for human rights but cautioned that vaguely worded laws may put that in jeopardy.

Her Tuesday 20 October 2020 statement comes as a response to worrying uses of the Indian Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FRCA) which various UN bodies have been worried is overbroad and vague in its objectives. Additionally, it prohibits them from receiving foreign money for “for any activities prejudicial to the public interest.” This can and has had an impact on the right to freedom of association and expression and has prevented foreign NGOs from giving money to Indian causes.

“The FCRA has been invoked over the years to justify an array of highly intrusive measures, ranging from official raids on NGO offices and freezing of bank accounts, to suspension or cancellation of registration, including of civil society organizations that have engaged with UN human rights bodies,” Bachelet said. Most recently it led Amnesty international to close their Indian offices after they were raided and their bank account was frozen.  [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/29/amnesty-feels-forced-to-shut-sown-its-india-office-amidst-govenment-pressure/]

Bachelet, also called for the Indian government to allow peaceful protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act. More than 1,500 people have been arrested because of their protests to this act and many have been charged with violations of the FCRA.

Finally, Bachelet,called for India to review the arrests of human rights defenders who have been arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for exercising their basic human rights.

[see e.g.https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/11/the-indomitable-father-stan-swamy-defending-the-adivasis-and-the-dalits-a-cause-of-arrest/]

https://www.jurist.org/news/2020/10/un-calls-on-india-to-safeguard-rights-of-rights-groups-and-ngos-in-face-of-legislation/

On 9 November came: https://theowp.org/reports/new-frontiers-in-the-suppression-of-human-rights-in-india/

The Indomitable Father Stan Swamy, defending the adivasis and the Dalits a cause of arrest

October 11, 2020

Stan Swamy and the adivasis he supports in an impossible battle for their own ancestral lands are pawns pitted against mammoth mining companies. Falsely branding activists as Maoists is the easiest way to condemn to enable vested interests to finish them off.The Indomitable Spirit of Father Stan Swamy

A file photo of human rights activist Stan Swamy. Photo: PTI

Mari Marcel Thekaekara wrote in the Indian Wire of 10 October 2020 a detailed and personal piece about “The Indomitable Spirit of Father Stan Swamy”

No, it’s not possible,” were my first thoughts when I heard that Father Stan Swamy, an 83-year-old Jesuit priest and activist had been arrested – for the second time. His crime? He defended the rights of adivasis being exploited in their homeland Jharkhand.

[see also; https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/40747]

Father Swamy has been accused of having links to a Maoist plot connected to the Bhima Koregaon case and was arrested by the National Investigation Agency on Thursday night. The rights activist is one of the gentlest and kindest men I have ever met. So the entire premise – for anyone who knows him – is entirely ludicrous. Funny even, if it were not so tragic. He has Parkinson’s disease. His hand shakes when he raises a cup of tea to his lips. He speaks so softly, you have to strain to hear him.

Social activists hold a protest after the arrest of Father Stan Swamy by the NIA in the Bhima Koregaon case, in Ranchi, October 9, 2020. Photo: PTI

He assures his interrogators that he has no connection with Maoists. He believes in peaceful, non-violent protest. I believe him. Because I know that his integrity is above reproach.

I heard of Father Stan Swamy in the early seventies, because he was among the first people I knew who advocated living with the adivasi community in Jharkhand to understand their lives and their problems; to help find solutions and a way forward. I went there in the early seventies while still in college to write a story for our student magazine.

On a more personal note, Stan Swamy, introduced my husband, also named Stan, to the adivasi world. He shared Father Swamy’s hut in a Ho village in Jharkhand. My husband always told young activists:

“Gandhiji’s non violence was not merely moral or religious. It was strategic. Gandhi was a brilliant general. Oxymoronic though that sounds. He understood that the fight for freedom could not be won by violence because mere ordinary Indians, even if they poured out on the streets with justice on their side, with God on their side, could never win. Even if there were thousands or lakhs of people marching in protest, they could never match the might of the state. Before 1947, the British could bring out the artillery and finish us off. One wrong step could have changed the course of our history. But the entire world watched India’s non violent battle for independence, open mouthed. Non violence was a new word, a new tactic, made in India. The world sympathised and empathised. Gandhi’s strategic non violence was the most brilliant weapon in our war for Independence’

The same scenario is playing out today. And the average activist understands that putting ordinary villagers, adivasis, Dalits or women in the line of fire is counterproductive and unfair. We learnt this strategy from Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narayan.

In recent times, it has become the norm to equate the word activist with ‘anti-national’. But who is an activist? What do they do?

It’s quite simple. All over India, there are thousands of people who took up the cause of fighting for social justice for the poor, the marginalised and the voiceless. These people were inspired by the brightest and best minds in our country – from Gandhiji to Vinobha Bhave to JP.

Post Independence, when the battle for freedom was won, Gandhi urged his followers to go out and continue the fight for freedom. This time, it was to free the poorest from hunger and poverty, to teach and educate, to weave and spin, to spread harmony and peace. Thousands rallied to his call and Gandhi ashrams were filled with people determined to continue the freedom struggle on a new battlefield – India’s villages.

The sixties saw the rise of the Dalit movement. New leaders emerged. Gandhi raised the question of untouchability in the early days of the Independence movement, but his ‘Harijan’ epithet was subsequently dismissed  by Dalits as patronising. Dalit power became a clarion call, drawing inspiration from the African-American Black Panther movement. Dr B.R. Ambedkar showed the way.

The term activist gained popularity during the JP movement and during the fight against the Emergency in the mid seventies. After the Emergency, thousands of young patriots, drawing their inspiration from JPs charisma, accepted his challenge to go out and organise the poor, the under privileged and the vulnerable; to fight for their rights. This period saw a proliferation of human rights defenders, though the term was not used till later.

Women and men dedicated their lives to fighting for Dalit rights, adivasi rights, womens’ rights, farmers’ unions and fisherfolk movements. These activists evolved in their understanding of rights based movements. They often lived with the communities they worked with. They identified with the people and though many were middle class, they tried to live simpler lives than their parents, than the backgrounds and privileged upbringing they had been born into. They were pleased to be branded activists and wore the badge with pride.

From the fifties and sixties, when Gandhians prevailed, we moved into the seventies where a sea change took place. Global thinking wafted across the world to India. The 1968 student movement in France, Latin American thinking, Marxist ideology – all these gained ground and influenced grass roots workers. The focus changed from the passive Gandhian way – the giving of food, clothes, free education and medicine to changing unjust situations at the base. ’Daan’ or mere giving was now passe.  Activists were trained to encourage people to ask who was cheating them and why? So if people were encroaching on adivasi or Dalit land, it was time to establish basic human rights; time to equip people to defend themselves, to fight injustice – non-violently, the Gandhian way, and the strategic way.

Soon, womens’ groups began to take action against dowry deaths and acid attacks, and took to the streets and courts to protest and demand justice. Dalit groups found lawyers willing to fight caste atrocity cases in court. Adivasis had activists urging them to defend their ancestral millennia old homelands from dominant caste landlords who shamelessly cheated them and usurped their lands. Environmentalists and eco-warriors hugged trees and stopped forests from being denuded. A huge green movement began. The protest movements grew from strength to strength.

In reality, these people are defending human rights and saving the Earth for future generations. When it comes to central India and defending tribal land from powerful mining companies, the battle assumes David versus Goliath proportions.

Stan Swamy and the adivasis he supports in an impossible battle for their own ancestral lands are tiny pawns pitted against mammoth mining companies. Falsely branding activists as Maoists is the easiest way to condemn them and to enable vested interests to finish them off.

The frail 83-year-old has trumped up charges levelled against him. Yet he has a core of steel, an indomitable strength that comes with moral conviction and a commitment to truth and to the powerless. As they took him to prison, Stan Swamy announced he would begin a fast. His fellow Jesuits who rushed to the prison with his medicines, say he has refused even a sip of water.

I kept asking why, they would arrest this gentle, kind man. Father Cedric Prakash, who is also a Jesuit and activist, said in a TV interview, “It’s to create a fear psychosis. If they can imprison an 83-year-old who has spent his life committed to the poor, who is safe?”

Asianet phoned to interview my husband Stan. People cautioned him, “You will draw attention to yourself. It can boomerang and have repercussions on your work in the Nilgiris.”

On 17 October: https://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/13484/jesuits-worldwide-protest-against-imprisonment-of-elderly-priest-

On 16 January 2021: https://indianexpress.com/article/india/stan-swamy-bhima-koregaon-stan-swamy-arrest-united-nations-human-rights-7148223/

https://thewire.in/rights/the-indomitable-spirit-of-father-stan-swamy

https://scroll.in/latest/975476/project-to-silence-dissent-all-india-catholic-union-demands-activist-stan-swamys-

Amnesty feels forced to shut down its India office under govenment pressure

September 29, 2020

On 29 September 2020, it was announced that Amnesty International has shut down its India operations, alleging ‘a ‘witch-hunt’ by the Government

Amnesty India shuts operations
Amnesty India shuts operations

The complete freezing of Amnesty International India’s bank accounts by the Government of India which it came to know on 10 September 2020, brings all the work being done by the organization to a grinding halt. The organisation has been compelled to let go of its staff in India and pause all its ongoing campaign and research work. This is latest in the incessant witch-hunt of human rights organizations by the Government of India over unfounded and motivated allegations, Amnesty International India said today. See below the CHRONOLOGY OF ATTACKS AND HARASSMENT OF AI INDIA, starting in October 2018:

The continuing crackdown on Amnesty International India over the last two years and the complete freezing of bank accounts is not accidental. The constant harassment by government agencies including the Enforcement Directorate is a result of our unequivocal calls for transparency in the government, more recently for accountability of the Delhi police and the Government of India regarding the grave human rights violations in the Delhi riots and Jammu & Kashmir. For a movement that has done nothing but raises its voices against injustice, this latest attack is akin to freezing dissent,” said Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty International India.

Amnesty International India stands in full compliance with all applicable Indian and international laws. For human rights work in India, it operates through a distinct model of raising funds domestically. More than four million Indians have supported Amnesty International India’s work in the last eight years and around 100,000 Indians have made financial contributions. These contributions evidently cannot have any relation with the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010. The fact that the Government is now portraying this lawful fundraising model as money-laundering is evidence that the overbroad legal framework is maliciously activated when human rights activists and groups challenge the government’s grave inactions and excesses.

The attacks on Amnesty International India and other outspoken human rights organizations, activists and human rights defenders is only an extension of the various repressive policies and sustained assault by the government on those who speak truth to power. “Treating human rights organisations like criminal enterprises and dissenting individuals as criminals without any credible evidence is a deliberate attempt by the Enforcement Directorate and Government of India to stoke a climate of fear and dismantle the critical voices in India. It reeks of fear and repression, ignores the human cost to this crackdown particularly during a pandemic and violates people’s basic rights to freedom of speech and expression, assembly, and association guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and international human rights law. Instead, as a global power and a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, India must fearlessly welcome calls for accountability and justice,” said Avinash Kumar.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/15/lawyers-are-the-frontline-warriors-and-defenders-of-the-rule-of-law/

——

BACKGROUND: CHRONOLOGY OF ATTACKS AND HARASSMENT OF AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL INDIA:

  1. On 25 October 2018, Amnesty International India endured a 10-hour-long raid as a group of officers from the Enforcement Directorate (ED), a financial investigation agency under the Ministry of Finance, entered its premises and locked the gates behind them. Most of the information and documents that were demanded during the search were already available in the public domain or filed with the relevant government authorities. The residence of a Director was also raided.
  2. Immediately after the raid, the bank accounts were also frozen by the ED. As a result, Amnesty International India was forced to let go of a number of its staff, adversely affecting its work in India including with the marginalised communities. Despite the ongoing investigations and before the framing of charges, the Government of India started a smear campaign against Amnesty International India in the country through selective leaking of documents gathered by the ED, to government-aligned media outlets. This resulted in a malicious media trial against the organization.
  3. In early 2019, the Department of Income Tax started sending investigative letters to more than 30 small regular donors. Apparently, the department did not find any irregularities but the process adversely affected the fundraising campaigns of Amnesty International India.
  4. In June 2019, Amnesty International India was denied permission to hold the press conference launch in Srinagar to release its third ‘Lawless Law’ report on the misuse and abuse of Public Safety Act in Jammu and Kashmir. It was forced to digitally release it.
  5. On 22 October 2019, Amnesty International testified at the US Congressional hearing on the situation of human rights in South Asia with a specific focus on Jammu and Kashmir since the unilateral abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India.
  6. On 15 November 2019, two weeks after the testimony and amid rumours of impending arrests of the organization’s top officials, the offices of Amnesty International India and the residence of one of its directors were raided again by the CBI. The raids were conducted on the basis of a First Information Report filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs over unsubstantiated allegations of suspected violations of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. It suggested investigations be launched under other laws like the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
  7. On 13 April 2020, Amnesty International India called on the Uttar Pradesh Government to stop its intimidation of journalists through use of repressive laws during a pandemic. On 15 April 2020, the Cyber Crime Police Station, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh notified Twitter to furnish information about Amnesty International India’s Twitter account @AIIndia which the organization uses to monitor and analyse developments in international human rights law and Indian constitutional and criminal law related to human rights issues.
  8. On 5 August 2020, marking the first anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, Amnesty International India released an update on the situation of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir.
  9. On 28 August 2020, marking the six-month anniversary of the riots that took place in North-East Delhi in February 2020, Amnesty International India released an investigative brief on the complicity of Delhi police in the riots which claimed the lives of at least 53 people, mostly from the minority Muslim community.
  10. The release of the two publications has provided fresh impetus to the establishment to harass and intimidate Amnesty International India through its investigative agencies.
  11. On 10 September 2020 Amnesty International India came to know that all its bank accounts were completely frozen by the Enforcement Directorate bringing most of the work of the human rights organization to a grinding halt.

see also:

https://www.newsx.com/national/amnesty-shuts-india-operations-alleges-witch-hunt-by-government.html

Kenneth Roth speaks plainly on international human rights: China a violator and US “unprincipled”

September 29, 2020

In Newsweek of 21 September 2020 did an interview with Kenneth Roth who has spent 27 years as the executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in which he warns that China poses a threat to the global human rights system, that U.S. is no longer to be relied on as a supporter of human rights and how this has left a void, emboldening autocrats who have used the pandemic to undermine democratic societies.

China and the threat it poses to human rights both at home and around the world is a huge issue,” he says, identifying the current period as the darkest in China’s history when it comes to human rights since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. More than a million Uighur Muslims have been put in internment camps in the country’s Xinjiang province, According to the United Nations (U.N.). China says the camps serve as “re-education” centers designed to combat extremism, but those who have managed to escape share stories of forced labor, torture, medical experiments and rape. Roth says: “The Uighurs are the most severe example of worsening repression under Xi Jinping (China’s prime minister). It’s quite clear that this is the darkest moment in China in human rights terms since the massacre of Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989, the Uyghurs have been the most grievous sufferers of that where a million or more have been detained essentially to force them to abandon Islam and their culture.” The worsening repression doesn’t just extend to minorities, it’s something Roth says we can see also occurring in Hong Kong and Tibet as well as against China’s own population more widely.

There is no independent civil society,” he says. “There is no independent media, human rights defenders are routinely imprisoned. There is a complete lockdown on any organized public dissent and that is just across the board, not just minority population areas. China’s also building this so-called social credit system which is designed to condition access to various governmental benefits on one’s social reliability. So it’s using high-tech tools to control the population.“…

….

On the human rights challenges facing Europe, Roth expresses particular concern about the situation in Belarus, where the man dubbed “Europe’s last dictator“, Alexander Lukashenko, is facing widespread protests over a disputed election. Lukashenko has been in power since 1994, with the government frequently accused of repressing the opposition….

Kenneth Roth
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch

He also thinks India‘s Prime Minister Modi has got away with what he calls his systematic discrimination against the country’s 172 million Muslims because of the West’s desire to tap into Indian markets and use it as a counterweight against China, which Newsweek will be reporting on in the coming days.

Roth is highly critical of the Trump administration, accusing the president’s foreign policy of being driven by the guiding principle of “self-glorification” and only speaking out in defense of human rights when the offending country is a perceived adversary.

Trump is utterly uninterested in calling out any human rights violation by anybody other than a handful of perceived adversaries, China, Venezuela, Iran, Nicaragua and Cuba and that’s about it, which is a completely unprincipled approach to human rights which does not attract any adherence and greatly weakens the force of US intervention,” he says. “Human Rights Watch has been living with Trump for four years now and we have already stopped relying on the U.S. as anything like a principled supporter of human rights.”

With the U.S. increasingly withdrawing from the world stage and with the European Union not really filling the void, as he says, is there a new approach to the defense of human rights emerging?

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/19/are-human-rights-defenders-making-a-comeback-kenneth-roth-thinks-so/

https://www.newsweek.com/human-rights-china-u-s-foreign-policy-trump-democracy-europe-human-rights-watch-1533239

Lawyers are the frontline warriors and defenders of the rule of law

September 15, 2020

Thanks to student Amrita Nair in the Leaflet of 14 September 2020 we have a good report of Indira Jaising‘s webinar: “The nature of the Legal Profession: Its role, challenges and limitations

She referred to the courts as the conflict zones and lawyers being people who resolve conflicts.

Quoting Atticus Finch, Jaising stated that the courts are to be great levelers where all men must be treated equally, but alas, this is ideal, but not necessarily the situation. Bias, blind prejudice, and lack of access to legal services have created huge gaps between people, making them less equal from one another. People come to the courts for all sorts of reasons. But the largest litigant in the court of law is the State, being respondent in a plethora of cases relating to fundamental rights violations and enjoying the monopoly for prosecuting crimes, among other things. While the state has the privilege to prosecute crimes, several individuals find themselves arrayed as accused persons in these cases, warranting the help of legal representation to prevent being stripped off of their right to life and liberty. The fight of an individual against the might of the state is unequal in criminal cases, making the system intrinsically unequal and discriminatory. Not every individual has the resources to hire a lawyer who could represent their case to the best of their capabilities. It is during such times that lawyers must come to the rescue of the unfortunate and underprivileged, to help restore balance in the system.

Jaising traced back the history of the evolution of the legal profession, stating that India got it from the British and emphasised how important it is to study the history of courts to understand how and why they function the way they do, today.

She spoke about the concept of the Star Chambers where the proceedings went on in closed chambers with only the judge, the jury, and the executioner present. Emphasis was laid on how there was no legal representation allowed and everything depended on how a person defended his own case, making it highly arbitrary as not everyone possessed the skills to defend themselves.

The emergence of the legal profession came with the modern judges having local experience and the position of the Barrister being created, with wide powers including the power to remove other advocates. The judicial system has come a long way since then, with modern-day High Courts and the Supreme Court making their own rules and the monopoly of Barristers being removed.

The Indian Bar Council Act was enforced with the objective of unifying various practicing advocates under the banner of lawyers or the members of the Bar. The Bar Councils were given more powers with regard to the decisions in matters of education, regulation and appointment. The Advocates Act of 1961 established an All India Bar which had wide powers and duties in regard to the legal profession.

Jaising remarked that the rejection of the Star Chambers and the need to protect the life and liberty of the people is what our system is based on. Lawyers are the frontline warriors and defenders of rule of law, which is a basic feature of the Constitution.

She said it was the duty of the lawyers in defending and upholding the values of the 73-year-old Constitution of India.

While speaking about the Parliamentary form of government, Jaising observed that the government does may claim to represent the will of the people, but their decisions and laws are subject to judicial review and even a majoritarian government cannot violate the basic features of the Constitution. It was the duty of the lawyers to question them when they seemed to deviate from the constitutional principles and mandate.

Addressing the issues surrounding the independence of the judiciary, Jaising stated that there cannot be an independent judiciary without the independence of the legal profession. Just as there exists the separation of powers between the three branches of the government, lawyers must be independent of judges. They must be allowed to make bona fide criticism of judges and the judgements or else the system gets reduced to the archaic Star Chambers, without any voice of opposition.

She explained that being charged with contempt of court charge by the judiciary threatened the independence of the legal profession. Prashant Bhushan’s case being a recent example. In Bhushan’s case, the court exercised powers to convict him dehors the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.  Fundamental rights can only be restricted by law and not by relying on the inherent powers to convict, the court threatened the freedom of speech and the independence of the legal system by bypassing the Act.

“Lawyers need to be respectful of judges, but not sycophants. Lawyers who bend over backward for judges pose a threat to the independence of the legal system,” she said.

According to her, an attack on one lawyer is an attack against the entire profession. The ability of lawyers to speak truth to power must be defended collectively through Bar Associations and Bar Councils. The need of the hour is more Bar Associations that speak out on issues of Human Rights, she said.

Jaising explained how the police were often the biggest lawbreakers, relying on the media to defame the innocent. Press conferences being held by the police while the case is sub judice brings prejudice into the matter and amounts to contempt of court. It is the lawyers that step in to defend the individuals against the might of the State and a prejudiced media, she said.

She pointed out that the right to legal representation itself is under attack. She spoke of how the State had the time and again targeted various lawyers defending the foundations of the Indian Constitution by standing against CAA, defending human rights, criticizing the State among other things. As lawyers and members of the legal community, despite all attacks, the only way to live is to stand up for our rights.

When asked about the pay gap between a corporate job and litigation and whether one would have enough to fend for themselves if they take up the litigation route, Jaising made an observation that the ones who chose the corporate path realised soon that the pursuit of wealth is not giving them any satisfaction. She responded by saying that all law students must come together and demand that all juniors working with a senior advocate must be paid a minimum amount of salary that is pre-decided and equal for all. It must be taken up at an institutional level and the Bar Council must come up with a rule to tackle this problem. Like in the US, ones engaging in pro bono work must have their loans waived and must do a mandatory 2-3 years of pro bono with law firms. She encouraged students to engage in work that they’re passionate about and not be driven by the quest for money. The satisfaction derived out of the work is priceless and one will never feel the lack of money when they engage in the work that they love and are passionate about.

In response to a question regarding the emotional connect of a lawyer with a client and the righteousness of the law and how it might prove to be an impediment, Jaising said that it is always possible to have an emotional connection with the client while also being dispassionate about the case. It is important to not make a conflict out of the two. One must not lie or manipulate the record but make the judge see the law as they see it or how the law ought to be seen.

“Get up, stand up and stand up for your rights!” said Jaising. She urged law students and lawyers to become human rights defenders and fight for principles they believed in.

The ability of lawyers to speak truth to power must be defended collectively by the Bar: Indira Jaising

Chhattisgarh State must pay compensation to six human rights defenders but will it?

August 11, 2020

The National Human Rights Commission has ordered the Chhattisgarh government to compensate human rights defenders Rs 1 lakh each, for allegedly false cases filed against them. The commission had in February asked the Congress government in the state to comply within six weeks.

Human rights defenders Nandini Sundar, Archana Prasad, Manju Kawasi, Vineet Tiwari, Sanjay Parate and Mangla Ram Karma said that on November 5, 2016, the Chhattisgarh Police lodged first information reports against them under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, Arms Act and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for the alleged murder of a person in Nama village of Sukma district. The Bharatiya Janata Party was in power at that time. “The case was supposedly filed on the written complaint of Shyamnath Baghel’s widow, Vimla Baghel,” they said in a press release. “However, she is on record saying she did not name anyone.” On November 15, 2016, the Supreme Court gave the individuals protection from arrest. However, they filed a fresh plea in the Supreme Court in 2018 as the matter had not yet been investigated or closed. The Congress-led Chhattisgarh government initiated a probe in the matter and in February 2019, concluded that the defenders were innocent.

In February this year, noting that the Chhattisgarh Police’s admission that there was no case to be made out against the signatories, the NHRC said that the individuals would have “certainly suffered a great mental pain and agony as a result of registration of false FIRs against them by the police”. “Therefore we recommend and direct the Government of Chhattisgarh through its Chief Secretary to pay a sum of Rs One Lakh each as monetary compensations to the six persons namely Prof Nandini Sundar, Ms. Archana Prasad, Shri Vineet Tiwari, Shri Sanjay Parate, Ms. Manju and Shri Mangla Ram Karma, whose human rights were gravely violated by the Chhattisgarh police,” the NHRC ruled.

The commission also directed the Chhattisgarh government to provide the same compensation to a group of lawyers from Telangana who were acquitted of all charges after being put in jail in Sukma for seven months. However, the six human rights defenders indicated that they had not yet received the compensation. “We welcome the NHRC order and hope that the Chhattisgarh government will act promptly to redress the reputational loss and mental agony suffered by us,” the press release said.

The signatories also said they hoped the police officers responsible for filing false charges against them, especially SRP Kalluri who was then the Bastar inspector general of police, will be investigated and prosecuted.

The defenders added: “To date, despite NHRC recommendations in 2008 and repeated Supreme Court directions, the Government of Chhattisgarh has not compensated the thousands of villagers whose homes were burnt by Salwa Judum or prosecuted those responsible for rapes and murders. Fake encounters and false arrests continue to be a grave concern in Chhattisgarh.”

Salwa Judum was a militia organised and mobilised by the government in Chhattisgarh to break the back of Maoist violence in the region. In July 2011, the Supreme Court declared Salwa Judum an illegal organisation, and ordered it to disband. However, the organisation continues to survive in the form of various vigilante groups operating in Chhattisgarh.

The signatories thanked the People’s Union of Civil Liberties for taking up all the cases of human rights defenders in Chhattisgarh, and said it was unfortunate that PUCL Secretary Sudha Bharadwaj had been arrested and imprisoned under “false charges” in the Elgar Parishad case.

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https://scroll.in/latest/969588/nhrc-orders-chhattisgarh-to-pay-rs-1-lakh-each-to-six-human-rights-defenders-for-false-caseshttps://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/pay-compensation-to-telangana-democratic-front-members-nhrc-tells-chhattisgarh-govt/story-gyJSK4GVtdsDEguUc5zgmJ.htmlhttps://theleaflet.in/nhrc-orders-chhattisgarh-to-compensate-13-social-activists-against-whom-false-firs-were-filed-read-press-release-by-activists/

 

Exclusion of human rights defenders from COVID-release measures is the norm

August 6, 2020

Governments who were lauded for releasing prisoners in response to COVID-19 outbreaks have in fact excluded human rights defenders from the measures and continue to make new arrests of activists, journalists and critics.

In a new briefing, “Daring to Stand up for Human Rights in a Pandemic”, which documents attacks on human rights defenders during the pandemic, the organization highlights the hypocrisy of governments including Egypt, India, Iran and Turkey, who have left prisoners of conscience to languish in appalling conditions despite widely publicized prisoner release programmes.

“COVID-19 has been an added punishment for human rights defenders who are unjustly imprisoned, and has also been used as a pretext for further harassment, prosecution and even killings,” said Lisa Maracani, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Human Rights Defenders. “The exclusion of human rights defenders from release measures underscores the political nature of their imprisonment. In Turkey for example, journalists, lawyers, activists and opposition politicians held in pre-trial detention on baseless charges remain behind bars despite government measures that have seen over 100,000 people released since April. It is plain to see that the Turkish government still fears criticism more than the pandemic.”

The new briefing documents attacks on human rights defenders during the COVID-19 period in 46 countries, and shows how “fake news” laws, movement restrictions, reduced police protection and heightened intolerance to criticism have led to new crackdowns around the world, including against whistle-blowers in the health sector and those highlighting inadequate responses to the pandemic.

Amnesty International has identified 131 people who speak up for human rights globally who have been harassed, prosecuted, killed or imprisoned on COVID-19-related pretexts – this figure is likely to be the tip of the iceberg.

On 25 March 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged all states to release “every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners, and those detained for critical, dissenting views” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, several countries excluded human rights defenders from decongestion measures in prisons and other places of detention. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/30/virutal-human-rights-council-adopts-presidents-statement-on-implications-of-covid-19/]

In India, for example, many students and activists who had participated in peaceful protests against India’s discriminatory citizenship law continue to be unjustly detained.

In Egypt, the government failed to release human rights defenders detained solely for expressing their views, as well as thousands of other pre-trial detainees, many of whom are facing overly vague “terrorism”- related charges amid concerns over breaches of due process.

In Turkey, decongestion measures have explicitly excluded those who are held in pre-trial detention, and those who are on remand for or have been convicted of offences under Turkey’s overly broad anti-terrorism laws. They include political and human rights activists, journalists, academics, and others who have spoken out against the government.

In Iran, authorities announced that they had temporarily released 85,000 prisoners but many human rights defenders continue to be held on politically motivated charges in appalling conditions.

They include Narges Mohammadi, a human rights defender who suffers from serious pre-existing health conditions and is showing suspected COVID-19 symptoms. The authorities continue to deny Narges Mohammadi health care in prison, and refuse to inform her of the results of a COVID-19 test taken on 8 July. Note that today (6 Augusrt 2020) th Voice of America reported: “in a written message sent to VOA Persian on Tuesday, Mohammadi’s husband, Taghi Rahmani, living in exile in Paris, said the dangerous phase of his wife’s illness had passed. Rahmani said his wife had been at risk of serious health complications if the illness had spread to her lungs, which already had been hobbled by a preexisting disease.”[https://www.voanews.com/middle-east/voa-news-iran/jailed-iranian-journalist-mohammadi-out-danger-coronavirus-husband-says]

Amid the crisis, Iranian authorities have also continued to arbitrarily arrest and imprison human rights defenders. In other countries where prisons are already severely overcrowded, governments have continued to arrest human rights defenders on trumped-up charges, exacerbating the problem and putting more people at risk.  In Azerbaijan for example, the government has mounted a new wave of arrests and prosecutions of dozens of political activists, journalists and human rights defenders, often in response to their criticism of the government’s handling of the pandemic. Among those arrested are opposition activist Tofig Yagublu on bogus charges of hooliganism, and human rights defender Elchin Mammad, who was arrested on theft charges days after he published a report on the human rights situation in the country.

New arrests of human rights defenders have also been reported in Tunisia, Morocco, Niger, Zimbabwe and Angola, among others.

“International cooperation must also include pressuring governments to release people who are in prison simply for peacefully exercising their human rights, and who are now at serious risk of contracting COVID-19.” said AI/

In Honduras, the most serious recent incident includes the possible forced disappearance of five young men, four of whom are activists with the Black Fraternal Organisation of Honduras (OFRANEH). They were taken from their homes on 18 July by men wearing police uniforms and have not been seen since.

In Colombia, civil society organization INDEPAZ has reported 166 killings during the first six months of 2020. Among them was Carlota Isabel Salinas Pérez, a women’s rights activist killed outside her home in March. Carlota was a community leader and had been collecting foodstuffs for families in need on the day she was killed.

Now more than ever, the work of human rights defenders is essential in fighting for equal access to healthcare, food and shelter, and informing the public about the virus and ways to protect themselves. Governments who exploit this crisis to attack human rights defenders should know they are being closely watched,” said Lisa Maracani. “It is vital that governments provide effective protection to human rights defenders and ensure they are safe from those attempting to exploit the pandemic and silence them.”

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/08/attacks-on-hrds-during-pandemic-report/