Rights

Members of European Parliament Ask India to 'End Crackdown' on Rights Activists

Twenty members of the European Parliament have written to Central ministers, expressing concern about “worrying signs of shrinking civil society space in India”.

New Delhi: Twenty members of European parliament have written to the Indian government and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) expressing concern over the crackdown on human rights defenders. They have urged India to create a more open civil society space.

The letter is addressed to the ministers of law and justice (Ravi Shankar Prasad), tribal affairs (Jual Oram) and social justice and empowerment (Thaawarchand Gehlot), and to the NHRC’s liaison officer for human rights defenders.

“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,” wrote the European parliamentarians. “This is why we are deeply concerned at the recent crackdowns on human rights defenders and organisations across the country.”

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Expressing concern that there are “worrying signs of shrinking civil society space in India”, the letter called on the government to “take urgent steps to change course, release all detained human rights defenders in the country, drop all charges against them, and allow them to carry out their work free from risk or impediment”.

It cited a series of events which had led to the letter, beginning with the arrest of three Dalit rights activists, a professor and a social activist in June last year for the Bhima Koregaon violence in January 2018. They were charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

A month later, the Jharkhand police filed sedition cases against 20 tribal rights activities for criticising the state government.

Then in August, Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha and Arun Ferreira were arrested in different cities, including under terrorism-related charges. Another Dalit activist, Degree Prasad Chouhan, has also been implicated in what the police is calling the ‘Urban Naxal’ case.

The letter also mentioned the arrests of Valarmathi Madhaiyan and Piyush Manush in June last year for opposing the proposed Central government sponsored and funded Salem-Chennai ‘green corridor’ highway project.

In addition, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) raids on Amnesty International’s India office in Bangalore and the freezing of the NGO’s bank account on October 25 were also cited.

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“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,” said the letter.

The European ministers urged India to immediately end the crackdown, release all who have been detained, drop charges and stop all judicial harassment of human rights defenders.

“Indian authorities should work towards more open civil society space and an enabling environment to allow human rights defenders to carry out their work,” it added.

Read the full text of their letter below.

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Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Law and Justice

Shri Jual Oram, Minister of Tribal Affairs

Shri Thaawarchand Gehlot, Union Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment

Shri Srinivasa Kammath, National Focal Point – Human Rights Defenders & Deputy Registrar, National Human Rights Commission

Brussels, 7 February 2019

Ministers,

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. 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. We call on you to take urgent steps to change course, release all detained human rights defenders in the country, drop all charges against them, and allow them to carry out their work free from risk or impediment.

In recent months there have been coordinated arrests of human rights defenders across the country.

On 6 June 2018 five human rights defenders, Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale, Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut were arrested in different parts of India. These human rights lawyers, journalists, and activists, were charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) with spreading controversial pamphlets and delivering hate speeches in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence that broke out in January 2018. On 26 July 2018, a sedition case was filed against 20 people, including indigenous rights defender Father Stan Swamy, for posting critical statements against the Jharkhand State Government.

On 28 August 2018, a different group of five human rights defenders were arrested in another coordinated crackdown by Indian police. Sudha Bhardwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha and Arun Ferreira were all arrested in different cities across the country, under a host of charges, including terrorism-related charges. On 26 October 2018, the Pune Sessions Court rejected their bail application. Another Dalit community leader and human rights defender, Degree Prasad Chouhan, has been implicated, and risks being falsely charged as well.

Two environmental rights defenders Valarmathi Madhaiyan and Piyush Manush were arrested on 18 and 19 June 2018 in Achankuttapatti village in the state of Tamil Nadu for opposing the proposed central government sponsored and funded Salem-Chennai ‘green corridor’ highway project.

In another turn of events, on 25 October 2018, Amnesty International India had its bank accounts frozen and its country office in Bangalore was raided by officers of the Enforcement Directorate.

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.

We urge you to immediately end these practices, release all those who have been detained, drop all charges against them, and stop all judicial harassment of human rights defenders. Indian authorities should work towards more open civil society space and an enabling environment to allow human rights defenders to carry out their work.

We look forward to your reply on this pressing matter.

Sincerely,

Members of the European Parliament

  1. Martina Anderson, Ireland, Sinn Fein
  2. Brando Benifei, Italy, Group of Progressive Socialists and Democrats
  3. Lynn Boylan, Ireland, Sinn Fein
  4. Matt Carthy, Ireland, Sinn Fein
  5. Jose Inacio Faria, Portugal, European Political Party (Christian Democrats)
  6. Ana Gomes, Portugal, Party of European Socialists
  7. Martin Häusling, Germany, Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance
  8. Eva Kaili, Greece, Panhellenic Socialist Movement
  9. Tunne Kelam, Estonia, Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats)
  10. António Marinho e Pinto, Portugal, Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe
  11. Ana Miranda, Spain, Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance
  12. Liadh Ní Riada, Ireland, Sinn Fein
  13. Elly Schlein, Italy, Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats
  14. Sion Simon, UK, Labour
  15. Maria Lidia Senra Rodrigues, Spain, Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left
  16. Alyn Smith, UK, Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance
  17. Barbara Spinelli, Italy, independent
  18. Bart Staes, Belgium, Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance
  19. Marie-Christine Vergiat, France, independent
  20. Julie Ward, UK, Labour Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats
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