Several academics on Tuesday issued a statement expressing “deep dismay” at the Centre’s alleged harassment of non-governmental organisation Lawyers Collective. The Central Bureau of Investigation had earlier this month filed a first information report against the group in a case of alleged violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act.
The academics sent their statement to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, among others.
“LC has played a sterling role for several decades in educating the wider public about their legal rights and has not hesitated to provide support for such legitimate struggles,” the statement said. “This has ranged from seeking to bring to book culprits involved in the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat to defence and promotion of the rights of sexual minorities and in creating wider space for positive legal activism in society at large.”
The academics, who included Akeel Bilgrami, Amrita Basu, Jean Dreze, Massoud Karshenas, Shefali Chandra and others, demanded that the Centre drop all charges against Lawyers Collective. They alleged that the government is determined to “shrink democratic spaces and silence voices of dissent, particularly among members of the legal fraternity, the media and academia”, and therefore has “sought to defame the Lawyers Collective on the flimsiest of charges”.
“We strongly condemn the government’s action against LC and call on fellow academics to register their protest by signing this statement,” the academics added.
Lawyers Collective had on June 18 issued a statement expressing “shock and outrage” at the decision of the CBI to file an FIR against it. Senior advocates Anand Grover and Indira Jaising, who are married to each other, are trustees of the organisation. Grover has been named in the FIR, among others.
“The FIR is solely based on proceedings under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010, in which orders for suspension and cancellation of LC’s registration to receive foreign funding were passed by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2016, which LC has challenged before the Bombay High Court,” the collective had said. “The appeal is pending.”
The Lawyers Collective said that it has reason to believe that its “office bearers were being personally targeted for speaking up in defence of human rights, secularism and independence of the judiciary”.
The Lawyers’ Collective also claimed that the Ministry of Home Affairs’ allegation that it had violated FCRA rules has no basis. They said that this has been pointed out to the ministry in 2016 itself.
On June 20, a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer citizens wrote an open letter criticising the government’s decision to prosecute the Lawyers Collective. It asked the Centre to stop harassing the organisation.