“This raid seems designed to harass and intimidate two tireless advocates of Constitutional and international rights in India,” ICJ’s Secretary General Sam Zarifi said. “The Indian government must immediately cease harassment of the Lawyers Collective and its founders Anand Grover and Indira Jaising.”
Earlier in the day, the Central Bureau of Investigation searched the homes and offices of both the lawyers in a case related to alleged violation of rules under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act. Last month, the agency had filed a case against Grover and his non-governmental organisation Lawyers Collective for alleged discrepancies in the utilisation of foreign aid, based on a complaint by the Ministry of Human Affairs. Grover is a trustee and director of Lawyers Collective. Jaising, who is married to Grover, is a trustee and secretary of the organisation.
Lawyers Collective is accused of irregularities in receiving foreign aid worth more than Rs 32.39 crore between 2006 and 2007, and 2014 and 2015. According to the Home Ministry, the NGO’s FCRA registration was suspended in 2016 as its response to the allegations was not satisfactory. Lawyers Collective has said the FIR has “no basis in fact and in law” and has been filed to target and silence its office bearers for the cases they have taken up in the past. The ministry also made allegations against Jaising, though she was not named as an accused.
The global jurists body on Thursday described Grover and Jaising as “two lawyers prominent for frequently challenging the Indian government’s failures to respect and promote the rights of all people in India”. The FCRA, it added, was a “much criticised law frequently used to target human rights defenders and critics of the Indian government”.
“The CBI raids appears to be based on a 2016 Ministry of Home Affairs report, now under appeal in the Bombay High Court, and without any material change in circumstances since its release,” the International Commission of Jurists said. “The raid has also been conducted notwithstanding a National Human Rights Commission statement seeking a status report from the CBI by 21 July 2019 to ensure that the investigation is ‘non-discriminatory and to avoid arbitrariness’.”
The organisation added: “The attack is emblematic of a broader pattern of official threats to and harassment of Indian civil society in general, and the Lawyers Collective in particular.”
“The repeated use of the FCRA to target civil society including Lawyers Collective has had a devastating chilling effect on public comment about the government,” Zarifi said. “The law should be repealed, or substantially amended to include safeguards against arbitrary use of its provisions, and to protect freedom of expression and association.”