In a letter to the Indian prime minister, the signatories also said the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act does not comply with international human rights norms.
Over 400 human rights experts, civil society leaders and representatives from over 50 countries across continents have urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to restore the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) licence of Lawyer’s Collective, which allows them to receive foreign funds. Their licence was suspended by the home ministry in June 2016.
In a letter sent to Modi on Tuesday, the signatories demanded that the prime minister intervene in the matter. The signories include former Brazilian President Fernando H. Cardoso, internationally acclaimed sculptor Anish Kapoor, former member of US Congress Richard L. Ottinger, former MP and deputy speaker of Polish parliament Wanda Nowick, UN special envoy on HIV/Aids in eastern Europe and central Asia Michel Kazatchkine, UN Rapporteur for contemporary forms of slavery Urmila Bhoola and former UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and president of the Supreme Court bar association of Pakistan, Asma Jahangir.
Coming together under the umbrella of the Lawyers Collective International Solidarity Campaign, the signatories have demanded that “the Lawyers Collective (India) be given the freedom and space to continue their uniquely important work in advancing the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised sections of society, in conformity with the rights and duties enshrined in India’s Constitution”.
It was on June 1, 2016 that the home ministry decided to suspend the Lawyers Collective’s license for 180 days, giving the organisation 30 days to make submissions against a permanent suspension.
In the statement, the experts and activists said the decision of the government of India has come under heavy criticism for “being vindictive”, given its timing and the history of the Lawyers Collective in challenging the Indian government on human rights issues. “The Lawyers Collective is the latest non government organisation to be targeted under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA),” they stated.
They also added that the FCRA “has been challenged globally because it does not comply with international human rights norms”.
On June 16, they said, three UN special rapporteurs also called for the FCRA to be repealed since it was being used to silence Indian groups advocating for civil, political, economic, social, environmental and cultural rights and holding the state and its agencies accountable in cases of injustice or misconduct.
“More specifically, the Lawyers Collective (India) believes that the decision is politically motivated. Indeed, instead of corresponding directly with the Lawyers Collective, the Ministry of Home Affairs leaked both its initial notice and subsequent suspension order to the media. This process is unlawful. The Collective has disputed all the allegations leveled against it and specifically and repeatedly countered each of the allegations. However, the ministry has chosen to ignore these submissions,” the statement by the campaign said.
“The timing of the ministry’s action,” it continued, “also raises alarm bells about its respect for the rule of law. For instance, the initial notice, dated 22 November 2015, occurred on the same day that Mr. Anand Grover, co-founder of the Lawyers Collective, appeared in court to challenge the discharge of the ruling party’s president, Mr. Amit Shah, on a murder charge. Again the suspension notice, dated 30 May 2016, was leaked to the press the day after Ms. Indira Jaising, co-founder of the Lawyers Collective, made a public statement that the petitioner would challenge the court order refusing to interfere with the discharge of Mr. Amit Shah.”
Amnesty International India, meanwhile, stated that “funding restrictions imposed on Lawyers Collective, a prominent human rights organisation, violate constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of expression and association”.
Michael Mansfield QC, an eminent UK lawyer, condemned the suspension, saying, “Organisations like the Lawyers Collective are invaluable in a free and democratic society to hold the government to account. It is of grave concern when laws such as the FCRA are used as a pretext to control civil society.”