India is misusing foreign funds law to stifle critical voices, alleges Human Rights Watch
The group's World Report 2017 said the Modi government had failed to prevent vigilante groups from harassing religious minorities.
Human Rights Watch on Thursday accused the Indian government of misusing the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act to block financial aid from abroad for civil society groups that are critical of government policies. “In 2016, three United Nations special rapporteurs called on the government to repeal FCRA,,” the group said in its “World Report 2017”. “However, the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi blocked funding for 25 groups, including some prominent human rights defenders, without offering valid reasons.”
The report also noted that authorities had failed to prevent vigilante groups “claiming to be supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party” from harassing religious minorities. “Hindu vigilante groups attacked Muslims and Dalits over suspicions that they had killed, stolen, or sold cows for beef,” it said.
It added that critics of the government often faced charges of sedition and criminal defamation and have been labelled “anti-national”.
On December 14, Union Home Ministry had cancelled the foreign funding licence of activist Teesta Setalvad’s NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace. Earlier in 2016, the licences of Setalvad’s other NGO Sabrang Trust and Greenpeace India had been cancelled. On January 3 this year, the Central Bureau of Investigation had filed a chargesheet against Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand, citing violations of FCRA provisions.
“The BJP came into office with the promise of development and foreign investment, but has been unable to contain its supporters who engage in vigilante violence,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Repression and an ostrich approach to problems will only make investors doubt India’s commitment to basic rights and the rule of law.”
The World Report further mentioned the unrest in Jammu and Kashmir, and accused the Centre of failing “to ensure accountability for police and soldiers” in other states too. Tens of thousands of Kashmiris had taken to the streets after Hizbul Mujahideeen commander Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter on July 8 last year. More than 100 people have died in the unrest that has prevailed in the state since then.
This was the 27th edition of the rights body’s World Report. In its opening notes, Executive Director Kenneth Roth said that a “new generation of authoritarian populists” are looking to “overturn the concept of human rights protections” and emphasised on the role of the media, civil society groups and the public in “reaffirming the values on which rights-respecting democracy has been built”.