The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights calls on New Delhi to safeguard the rights of human rights defenders and NGOs.
The UN human rights chief has urged India to do more to protect human rights activists, who have come under increasing pressure in recent months in the world’s largest democracy.
The office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday highlighted three “problematic” Indian laws that have led to the arrest of activists and restrictions on the work of non-governmental organizations.
His office lamented “loosely drafted laws that restrict foreign funding” that are increasingly used to stifle voices in civil society, including the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which prohibits the receipt of foreign funds “for any activity prejudicial to the public interest”.
“The FCRA has been used over the years to justify a series of highly intrusive measures,” she said, including “official raids on NGO offices and the freezing of bank accounts”.
“I am concerned that such actions based on loosely defined ‘public interest’ grounds leave this law open to abuse, and that it is effectively used to deter or punish NGOs that report and advocate in support for human rights that the authorities regard as critical. in nature, ”said the former Chilean president.
Bachelet added that activists and human rights defenders have come under increasing pressure in recent months, especially those involved in mass protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
Many activists have been arrested under strict anti-terrorism and similar laws for protesting the CAA for speeding up the naturalization of some religious minorities born abroad – but not Muslims.
Rights groups condemned the arrests as “illegal” and “serious abuse of state power”.
“Constructive criticism is the cornerstone of democracy. Even if the authorities find it uncomfortable, it should never be criminalized or banned in this way, ”Bachelet said in his statement.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been accused of viewing most nonprofits and foreign rights groups with suspicion.
Last month, the Amnesty International advocacy group halted its operations in India, citing alleged government reprisals and the freezing of its bank accounts by Indian authorities.
“I urge the government to ensure that no one else is detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly – and to do everything possible, in law and in politics, to protect the strong Indian civil society, ”Bachelet said.
The Indian government rejected Bachelet’s criticisms and said that “violations of the law” could not be “tolerated under the pretext of human rights”.
“A United Nations body should have a more informed view of the issue,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said.
But critics say India under Modi has become increasingly intolerant, with a crackdown on dissent on an unprecedented scale, with leaders and supporters of his party routinely branding dissenters and activists as “anti -national ”.
More than 1,500 people have been arrested, said Bachelet, including Catholic priest Stan Swamy, 83, the oldest Indian to be accused of terrorism.