Monday, October 24, 2016

Modi govt "increasingly interfering" in freedom of association, expression, assembly: Global civil society alliance

By Our Representative
Civicus Monitor, a global civil society alliance based in Johannesburg, South Africa, in its first-ever online tracking of 104 countries, has noted that the “civic space” in India is being “increasingly constrained because of government interference with the freedoms of association, expression, and peaceful assembly.”
Placing India under the “obstructed” category in the company of 21 other countries, including Armenia, Bhutan, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Indonesia, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Malaysia, Moldova, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, and Ukrain, Civicus regrets, “India’s many civil society organizations have until recently enjoyed an enabling operating environment.”
“Local and foreign civil society organizations describe an uneasy atmosphere under the current government of Narendra Modi”, it says, adding, “This has been caused by the government’s targeting of CSOs, including Greenpeace India, as well as statements leaked to the media indicating that civil society is receiving large sums of money to pursue foreign agendas in India.”
It further notes, “While many organisations providing social services can operated unimpeded, and in many cases collaborate effectively with the state, human rights defenders face threats, harassment and intimidation, and space for the expression of diverse views and dissent is shrinking.”
Placing countries in five different categories (closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed and open) Civicus notes, under the “closed” categories are 16 countries such as Cuba, Ethiopia, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Vietnam; and under the “repressed” category are 32 countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Iraq, Mexico, Myanmar, Pakistan, Russia, Rwanda, and Thailand.
Then, under the “narrowed” category there are 26 countries, including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, Chile, France, Georgia, Japan, Poland, South Africa, Spain, United Kingdom, Uruguay, and USA; and under “open” there are just nine countries – Andorra, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden.
Especially referring to the situation in Kashmir in the context of India, Civicus says, it “remains extremely volatile”, with the death toll reaching “over 90, and with thousands of civilians injured”, and “conditions for civic activism in the region are closing rapidly under pressure from the authorities.”
“As tensions mount over the disputed region between India and Pakistan, the people of Kashmir are increasingly caught in the crossfire of mortar shells between the two nations”, Civicus underlines, adding, “As instability between the two nations grows, many fear that the situation could rapidly escalate; making almost impossible conditions for civil society even worse.”
Civicus particularly notes how things have gone so far India India, where there was a “travel ban on prominent Kashmiri human rights activist, Khurram Pervez”, who was “prevented from boarding a flight bound for United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva and was subsequently detained.”
Civicus also notes that India has recently taken what it calls “several retrograde steps towards curtailing associational rights”, which includes “the government's recent proposal to extend the ambit of anti-corruption legislation in order to create a stricter environment for CSOs and their receipt of funds”, with efforts to “examine how accountability of NGOs could be tightened.”
Other examples noted by Civicus of “obstructions” suffered by civil society include “the momentum of protests by the Dalit community” in Gujarat, “violent protests” between residents of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka on the Cauvery river water sharing arrangement, “mass protests against land acquisition by extractive companies” in Jharkhand.

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