India appreciates the work of human rights defenders, journalists and activists, but they must follow the law, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said at Geneva on Thursday, The Hindu reported.

Mehta made the statement during India’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The solicitor general said that action was taken against some organisations on account of their “illegal practices, including malafide re-routing of money and wilful and continuing violations of extant legal provisions, foreign exchange management rules and tax law of India”.

Mehta said that India is home to more than 1,00,000 independent civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations, which play an important role in protecting human rights, PTI reported.

He said that the provisions of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act are similar to those in foreign countries. “All data related to registration, renewal, annual returns are in the public domain,” he said. “In cases of refusal, reasons and provisions under the Act and rules are specifically cited and the applicant is duly informed.”

Mehta said that even if applications for renewal are rejected or cancelled, organisations can still seek permission to receive funds on a case-to-case basis.

The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act lays down conditions under which civil society organisations can receive funds from abroad. An amendment to the law passed in 2020 reduces the limit of usable foreign contribution for administrative expenses from 50% to 20% and prevents transfer of foreign funding to any other person. It also empowers the government to cancel the FCRA certificate of an organisation.

Meanwhile, some countries at the council recommended that India should place a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, and eventually abolish it. In response, Mehta said that the capital punishment is only imposed in the rarest of rare cases, when alternative options are unquestionably foreclosed, according to PTI.

Some countries also expressed concern about the Citizenship Amendment Act, which fast-tracks citizenship to refugees from six non-Muslim religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, Mehta said that the law reaffirms India’s commitment to the well-being of persecuted minorities of the region and takes “historical context and the current ground realities” into account.

The solicitor general claimed that the Act is similar to laws in other countries that define specific criteria for citizenship, according to PTI.

“This Act neither takes away the citizenship of any Indian citizen nor amends nor abridges any existing process for acquiring Indian citizenship by any foreigner of any country belonging to any faith or religion,” Mehta said.

Critics have expressed fears that the Citizenship Amendment Act, clubbed with the National Register of Citizens, will be misused to target Muslims in the country.

At Thursday’s review, Greece urged India to “ensure full implementation of freedom of religion”. Meanwhile, Germany raised concerns about the rights of marginalised groups, particularly religious minorities as well as women and girls.

Ireland called for transparency in the implementation of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, and also urged Indian states to repeal anti-conversion laws.

The Universal Periodic Reviews are carried out by a working group which consists of 47 members of the Human Rights Council. All member states of the United Nations undergo these reviews.

The working group will adopt its report on India on November 16.