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Conflation of dissent with anti-nationalism as India 'slides' towards authoritarianism

By Our Representative

The global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, in its new report: “Punished for speaking up: The ongoing use of restrictive laws to silence dissent in India”, has taken strong exception to the judicial harassment of activists, targeting of journalists and crackdown on protesters, even as pointing towards how rights violations have continued during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term, including during the pandemic. 
Calling for the immediate release of arbitrarily detained activists, protesters and human rights defenders, the report states that the Modi government is using a variety of restrictive laws -- including national security and counter terrorism legislation -- to arrest and imprison human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and critics.
More than a year into Modi’s second term in office, the report shows an increasingly repressive environment for civic freedoms, such as the freedoms of expression, association and assembly, highlighting arrest, detention and prosecution of activists, the targeting of journalists, and “unprecedented” and “brutal” crackdown on protests against the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
Further, it says, India’s slide towards authoritarianism has led to the conflation of dissent with anti-nationalism, often with disastrous results for human rights defenders and activists who have been subjected to damaging smear campaigns.
Profiling some of the activists who have been arbitrary arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned, even as providing a snapshot of the challenges facing the country’s human rights defenders, the report believes that there are a series of vaguely-worded and overly broad laws being used by the Indian authorities to deprive activists of bail and keep them in ongoing detention.
These, it says, include the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), "which is India’s primary counter-terrorism law"; section 124A on ‘sedition’ of the Indian Penal Code, "a colonial-era relic"; and administrative detention laws such as the National Security Act (NSA) and the Public Safety Act (PSA), "which apply Jammu and Kashmir." 
“The Indian government must stop using restrictive national security and counter-terrorism laws against human rights defenders and critics. The authorities must also drop the baseless and politically-motivated criminal charges against activists and release them immediately and unconditionally,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia-Pacific Civic Space Researcher.
“The laws are incompatible with India’s international human rights obligations as well as India’s Constitution. Not only are the laws themselves inherently flawed, but their implementation makes it clear that they have become tools for judicial harassment, rather than for preventing or addressing criminality.”
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Modi government has continued to use state resources to sustain its persecution of human rights defenders and critics, many of whom have underlying medical conditions or are at risk of contracting Covid-19 in overcrowded and unsanitary prisons, the report says, expressing concern about the judicial harassment of individuals and journalists who criticise the authorities’ handling of the pandemic.
“It is appalling that human rights defenders are locked up in overcrowded prisons and continuously denied bail despite calls by the UN to decongest prisons and release political prisoners during the pandemic. Holding them at this time puts them at serious risk of contracting COVID-19 and adds another layer of punishment for these activists, who have been detained just for speaking up for human rights,” said Benedict.
Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal arrested in May 2020 for anti-CAA protests
Despite the hostile environment, human rights defenders and civil society organisations in India are pushing back against oppression, the report says. The benefits of a vibrant civil society, and of human rights defenders who are free to do their work, are tangible. This has been evident in civil society’s crucial response to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, in providing vital help to communities in need, defending rights, and holding governments accountable, it adds.
“As India’s political and economic influence increases, developments in the country are being closely followed by the global community. India’s quest to play a critical role on the international stage would be better served by committing to upholding democratic values and recognising the validity of people’s struggles,” said Benedict.
Among the number of recommendations CIVICUS makes to the Government of India include dropping of all charges against human rights defenders, activists and protesters, and immediately and unconditionally release all those detained; review of India’s criminal laws to conform to international standards for the protection of fundamental freedoms; and steps to ensure that all human rights defenders in India are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance or fear of reprisals.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Don't try to teach Hindustan what to do and what should not do. We are the biggest democracy and we have every right to defend our national interests and we will not allow any anti-national activists who, after taking huge money from Terrorists organisation do all anti-national activities and when the Government take action against such anti-nationals, they try to defend themselves in the name of "Human rights". We, the other true Hindustanis have also have the right of "human rights". The Human rights office in Hindustan is siding with terrorists only as we, the true Hindustanis, never say these fools say any word against terrorism, terrorists and the supporters of terrorist groups. From this, it is clear that they (the said to be the police of Human rights) are also terrorists.

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