On Friday, the Central Bureau of Investigation court in Mumbai rejected the anticipatory bail plea of human rights activists Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand. Within hours, the couple filed an appeal in the Bombay High Court, which granted them interim bail for two weeks until it could hear the case.

The CBI had filed a First Information Report against Setalvad and Anand on July 8, after the union home ministry requested it to take over investigation of a possible violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. Before Setalvad and Anand received a copy of the CBI’s FIR, representatives of the bureau conducted a 23-hour raid of their house on July 15.

Two days later, Setalvad and Anand filed a plea for anticipatory bail with the CBI court in Mumbai. While opposing their plea for bail, the CBI claimed that the offence was severe enough to push for custodial interrogation.

In an interim order, the court directed both to make themselves available for daily questioning between 3pm and 5pm until July 21. On July 20, the CBI informed the couple that they had no further questions. Yet a day later, in the court, when the court extended the interim order until Friday, the CBI continued to ask for their presence. The court has now limited further questioning to four more sessions in the coming two weeks.

Setalvad and Anand had requested relief as it would prevent them from attending another case in Gujarat on Monday. The Gujarat High Court will begin its final hearings of the plea against the closure report of a Special Investigation Team that concluded there was insufficient evidence to prosecute current Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his alleged role in the Gujarat riots. Setalvad, who is a petitioner in this case, has applied for an a week's extension while they attend to the CBI investigation.

"This is a misuse of the agency," Setalvad said. "The state is unleashing the full weight and strength of state power against human rights activists. It is extremely unnecessary and shows that powers that be have something to worry about."

In a rejoinder to their application for anticipatory bail in the CBI court, filed on July 23, the two pointed out that Setalvad's passport had already been deposited with the Gujarat High Court, so there was no question of her fleeing the country. They also argued that their continued required presence in Mumbai would mean Setalvad would be unable to give instructions in person in Gujarat. This, the rejoinder said, “could in fact be an obstruction to the course of public justice.”

What are the charges against Teesta?

Before the CBI took over the case, it was being pursued by Gujarat police. It revolves around a consultancy agreement between Ford Foundation and Sabrang Communications and Publishing Private Limited in 2004, which among other advocacy activities brings out the monthly publication Communalism CombatThe American grant giver paid Sabrang approximately Rs 1.5 crore for media advocacy to promote communal harmony.

Rules under the FCRA require organisations to seek the clearance of the home ministry before accepting any foreign funding. A later version of the Act – which was amended in 2010 – prohibits publications from receiving foreign funding. This was not the case at the time of Ford’s grants to Sabrang Communications. The CBI is investigating this and whether Sabrang Communications received official clearance for these amounts.

The CBI’s FIR elaborates further potential violations. It notes that Ford Foundation granted these amounts to Sabrang Communications for activities such as educating lawyers about the misuse of criminal law, promoting communal harmony, and organising public neighbourhood meetings to advocate peace.

“The motive behind transfer of Foreign Contribution to SCPPL is highly objectionable and reflects interference towards the internal security and activities of India,” the FIR says.

These activities, it goes on, might prejudicially affect the “security, strategic, scientific or economic interest of the state”, religious and social harmony, and an ambiguous “public interest”. This could be in violation of the 2010 version of the FCRA, the FIR says.

Paper trails

The central and the Gujarat state government have been seeking custodial interrogation of Setalvad and Anand since 2014, when allegations emerged that the two had embezzled funds for the Gulberg Society museum. The activists have maintained that since these are economic offences that require provision of documentation, there is little the police can achieve with custodial interrogation.

In February, the Gujarat High Court rejected their plea for anticipatory bail in the embezzlement case. Their appeal in the Supreme Court is still pending.

In addition, the couple finds itself facing the prospect of arrest in the FCRA case being investigated by the CBI.

These cases, Setalvad alleged, point to a systematic hounding for her pursuit of legal justice in riot cases in Gujarat.

“We believe the reason for the redoubled attempts to humiliate me, to constrain my movement lie in the slow advance of the Zakia Jafri case,” she said. “The criminal miscellaneous appeal in this case, appealing the rejection of the Special Investigation Team closure report and seeking the charge-sheeting of 60 powerful accused is set to begin on July 27, 2015. My harassment is essentially an effort to affect the quality of arguments in this case.”