Rights group Human Rights Watch in its “World Report 2021”, released on Wednesday, said the Narendra Modi-led government harassed, detained and prosecuted its critics through “politically motivated” cases and regulations in the last year.

The report took note of the Union government’s decisions and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s involvement in several incidents like the clampdown in Jammu and Kashmir, violence in Delhi in February, cases against activists in the Bhima Koregaon case, and crackdown on foreign funds of non-governmental organisations.

“The Indian government seems determined to punish peaceful criticism using draconian laws, while sending a broader message that chills dissent,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of addressing growing attacks on Muslims, minorities, and women, Indian authorities increased their crackdown on critical voices in 2020.”

The report further said that the Covid-19 lockdown disproportionately hurt marginalised communities due to loss of livelihoods and lack of food, shelter, healthcare, and other basic needs.

On Jammu and Kashmir

The report criticised the government’s new media policy for Jammu and Kashmir, introduced in June last year, suggesting that the provisions were “vague and overbroad”, which restricted and penalised legally protected speech. It also took note of a staged encounter in Shopian, which killed three labourers on the suspicion of being terrorists.

The report also took exception to detainment of several Opposition leaders in Jammu and Kashmir, under the Public Safety Act, after the abrogation of the erstwhile state’s special status in August 2019.

On Delhi violence

The Human Rights Watch also pointed out that no action was taken against BJP leaders like Kapil Mishra, who the report said had incited the violence that broke out in the national Capital in February 2020. “Violence broke out soon after a local BJP politician, Kapil Mishra, demanded that the police clear the roads of protesters,” the report read. “Tensions had been building for weeks, with BJP leaders openly advocating violence against the protesters, whom some called ‘traitors’ to be shot. Witness accounts and video evidence showed police complicity in the violence.”

The report also highlighted a report by the Delhi Minorities Commission saying the Delhi violence was “planned and targeted”. “A July report by the Delhi Minorities Commission...found that the police were filing cases against Muslim victims for the violence, but not taking action against the BJP leaders who incited it,” the report noted.

On arrest of activists

Apart from the Delhi violence, the report mentioned the arrest of activists in the Bhima Koregaon case, stating that the police investigations was “biased and aimed at silencing dissent”. “Indian authorities brought politically motivated cases, including under draconian sedition and terrorism laws, against human rights defenders, student activists, academics, opposition leaders, and critics,” the report said.

On restricting foreign funds of NGOs

The report criticised the amendment introduced by the Union government in Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, which stifled overseas funds for non-government organisations. Mentioning the decision of Amnesty International to suspend its operations in India due to the new regulations, the report said that the law was “used to harass outspoken rights groups”.