Several European MPs have expressed concern at the crackdown on human rights activists and organisations in India and called upon the government to work towards a more open civil society space, The Wire reported on Tuesday.
The letter, dated February 7 and signed by 20 members of the European Parliament, is addressed to Minister of Law Ravi Shankar, Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawarchand Gehlot, Minister of Tribal Affairs Jual Oram, and National Human Rights Commission’s nodal officer for human rights defenders Srinivasa Kammath.
“India is the largest democracy in the world, and an important strategic partner of the European Union, whereas the relationship between the two is based on shared values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law,” said the letter. “This is why we are deeply concerned at the recent crackdowns on human rights defenders and organisations across the country.”
“These are worrying signs of shrinking civil society space in India,” said the MPs who have called upon the government to release all detained human rights defenders, drop charges against them, and allow them to freely carry out their work.
The MPs cited the arrests of activists Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale, Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut in June 2018, and that of Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and Gautam Navlakha two months later. The activists were accused of having links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). Bharadwaj and the others were accused of organising the Elgaar Parishad event to mark the 200th year of the battle of Bhima Koregaon on December 31, 2017, a day before clashes erupted in the village between Dalits and Marathas.
The letter said that a case of sedition was filed against Jharkhand-based human rights activist and Catholic priest Stan Swamy in July last year for posting critical statements against the state government. In August last year, the Pune Police had raided Swamy’s home in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case.
The MPs also cited the Enforcement Directorate raids on the premises of Amnesty International India’s office in Bengaluru in October last year.
“These are examples of arrests and judicial harassment, smearing, and intimidation of a wide range of human rights defenders, from those working on civil liberties, to land and environmental rights, indigenous and minority rights in India, and the backbone of India’s democracy,” the ministers said, asking the Indian government to stop all “judicial harassment” of human rights defenders.