Friday, April 10, 2015

Modi govt move to suspend Greenpeace's foreign funds, freeze accounts described "curb" on free speech

By Our Representative
Greenpeace India has described the latest curbs on by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Government of India, on its sources of funding as "violation of the right to freedom of expression." On April 9, the MHA ordered, through a post on its website, that Greenpeace India’s bank accounts had been frozen, and its ability to receive funding from abroad had been suspended.
The MHA said the acceptance of foreign funds by Greenpeace India had “prejudicially affected” public interest and the economic interest of the country. Other grounds include the alleged use of funds for certain purposes without government approval.
In a statement, Greenpeace India's executive director Samit Aich said, the organization is being targeted because it "differs from the government’s view". He added, "We believe in development for all, creating a green economy with India leading the way to tackle global problems like climate change and provision of safe food."
Undeterred by the "curb" Aich said, it is "supported by Indians", with 68% of its funds in 2014-15 coming from India. It added, "India is the largest democracy in the world. And it’s appalling to see how dissent here is being suppressed. We are allowed to have a different opinion."
Aich further said: “This feels like a revealing moment, one that says much more about the MHA than it does about Greenpeace. We believe in the Indian legal system. A campaign is being waged against dissent, but we will not be cowed.” He added, the Delhi High Court has decided in its favour.
Meanwhile, sharply criticising the Modi government move, Amnesty International, one of the world's most infuential human rights organizations, said, "New government restrictions imposed on Greenpeace India’s bank accounts and sources of funding on grounds of public interest violate constitutional rights to freedom of expression and association"..
“It is clear that Greenpeace is being targeted because its strong views and campaigns question the government’s development policies,” said Ananth Guruswamy, executive director at Amnesty International India.
“The extreme measures taken by the government to disable an organisation for promoting the voices of some of the country’s most powerless people will damage and shame India. Intolerance to dissent will only weaken our society”, he added.
"Claims that Greenpeace India is acting against public interest have been dismissed by the judiciary twice in recent months", Amnesy said. "Following a leaked Intelligence Bureau report in June 2014 that described Greenpeace’s activities as a threat to national economic security, the government restricted Greenpeace’s international funding. In January 2015, the Delhi High Court directed the government to release frozen funds."
The Delhi High Court observed, “Non-governmental organizations often take positions, which are contrary to the policies formulated by the Government of the day. That by itself…cannot be used to portray petitioner’s action as being detrimental to national interest.”
Amnesty pointed to how on January 11, 2015, the government prevented a Greenpeace campaigner (Priya Pillai) from travelling to the United Kingdom to speak about human rights abuses related to a coal mine in Mahan, Madhya Pradesh. This too was set aside by the Delhi High Court.
"The court ruled that the travel restrictions violated fundamental rights, and observed that 'contrarian views held by a section of people…cannot be used to describe such section or class of people as anti-national.” The court also observed that there was nothing on record to suggest that Greenpeace India’s activities “have the potentiality of degrading the economic interest of the country',” Amnesty said.
“The State may not accept the views of the civil right activists, but that by itself, cannot be a good enough reason to do away with dissent,” stated the court.
“The Ministry of Environment and Forests has agreed that the Mahan coal block is located in a protected forest, where no mining should take place,” said Guruswamy in his statement.
“Instead of dubbing Greenpeace anti-national, the government should focus on the vital issues that it raises. Amnesty International India is particularly concerned about the rights of Adivasis affected by state policies, and urges the government to strengthen protections for these communities”, he added.

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