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Global NGO rates Modi's India repressed: 'Alarming rise in assault on civic freedoms'

By Our Representative 

Rating the civic space in India as "repressed", the global civil society alliance CIVICUS has said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term in power was sustained by a pattern of repression to undermine democracy and civic space. The assessment is based on its analysis of civic freedoms in 198 countries and territories to categorise them as either ‘closed,’ ‘repressed,’ ‘obstructed,’ ‘narrowed’ or ‘open,’ based on a methodology which combines several data sources on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.
A new CIVICUS Monitor report, published ahead of the 2024 elections, shows that the Indian government used an array of restrictive laws and policies to silence dissent by targeting critics including civil society groups, human rights defenders and independent media.
The report highlights how civil society organisations have faced an increased crackdown through the cancellation of their registrations, raids and investigations by law enforcement agencies. The authorities also blocked access to foreign funding for civil society groups, critical of the government, through the restrictive Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which the UN has deemed in contravention of international law and standards.
Human rights defenders critical of the government were also implicated and jailed in “politically motivated cases” under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), a “draconian” anti-terror law, the report says, Under the UAPA provisions, activists remain in detention for long periods and are often denied bail even on health grounds, as exemplified in the Bhima Koregaon case. India also witnessed an increase in attacks and restrictions against independent media and journalists in recent years such as the targeting of “NewsClick” with raids, searches and seizures by various government agencies.
“The increasing use of restrictive laws during Prime Minister Modi’s second term to crackdown on civil society, human rights defenders and independent media, highlights a government that has become intolerable of any form of dissent. These laws have become tools for judicial harassment and are incompatible with India’s international human rights obligations as well as India’s Constitution”, Marianna Belalba Barreto, Research Lead for the CIVICUS Monitor, is quoted as saying.
CIVICUS further says that since the 2019 elections, major protests in India have been met with arbitrary arrests and excessive use of force by the police, including protests against the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) 2019 and the farmers protests. Authorities used Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a colonial-era provision, to arbitrarily restrict or deny assemblies. Internet shutdowns were also used to prevent people gathering in protests and fabricated charges were brought against protesters, with some still remaining in detention.
Human rights work in Kashmir has almost come to a complete standstill due to arrests of activists and continuous harassment of civil society organisations and activists through raids and interrogations, the report notes. Among them include human rights defender Khurram Parvez (photo) from the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, who has been detained under the UAPA for more than two years. Journalists who report on critical issues in Kashmir have also been targeted.
“The systematic crackdown on peaceful protests and the jailing of protesters for exercising their right to peaceful assembly shows the erosion of democratic space during Modi’s second term. In Kashmir, the heavy-handed repression by the Indian government against critical voices and the failure to ensure accountability has left the region in a climate of fear”, says Belalba.
CIVICUS has demanded that the government should drop all charges against human rights defenders, activists and protesters, and immediately and unconditionally release all those detained; review and amend India’s criminal laws to conform to international law and standards and take 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.
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Click here to download full report

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