Civicus Monitor Says Civic Rights In India Were ‘Repressed’ In 2022


They have been “obstructed” since 2018  

Civic rights in India were “repressed” in 2022 and “obstructed” in 2021, 2020, 2019 and 2018, says CIVICUS Monitor, which rates and tracks the state of civic freedoms in countries and territories. 

It says that in both Pakistan and Bangladesh, civic rights were “repressed” year after year from 2018. Sri Lanka and the Maldives fared better than their peers in South Asia. Here civic rights had been ‘obstructed’ from 2018 to 2022.

The Civicus Monitor classifies countries as ‘closed’, ‘repressed’,  ‘obstructed’, ‘narrowed’ and ‘open’ to indicate status between closed and open societies. 

CIVICUS is an international alliance dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world, says its website:

Significantly, it says that violations are not exclusive to closed and repressed countries. Restrictions are spreading to countries with greater enabling civic spaces such as the UK, US and Japan. Attacks on journalists are almost as widespread in avowedly ‘liberal’ countries as in obstructed or repressed countries.

In regard to the year 2022, 27 countries were rated as ‘closed’; 50 as ‘repressed’; 40 as ‘obstructed’, 42 as ‘narrowed’; and 38 as ‘open’.

Interestingly, the US was in the ‘narrowed’ category in 2022, ‘obstructed’ in 2021 and 2020. and ‘narrowed’ in 2019 and 2018. And the UK was in the ‘obstructed’ category in 2022 and in the ‘narrowed’ category.

Conditions in India 

In its scathing report on India (see between 2018 and 2021) the Civicus Monitor says: “Under the Modi government sedition cases have increased by 28 % with Indian authorities filing more than 500 sedition cases involving more than 7,000 people. According to reports, as of July 2022, 149 people have faced sedition charges simply for making remarks about Modi that were considered critical and derogatory. While the courts ultimately dismiss most sedition cases, the process itself becomes the punishment.”

“This trend extends to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. A report titled ‘UAPA : Criminalising Dissent and State Terror’ by People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) sheds light on the fact that between 2015 and 2020, less than three percent of arrests under UAPA led to conviction — out of 8,371 people arrested under the stringent law, only 235 were convicted in the five-year period. The report observes that the high rate of acquittal (97.2 percent) showed that prosecution under UAPA lacked merit in a huge majority of the cases. The report also noted that once arrested under UAPA, it usually takes a long time for a person to get bail, citing data from the Modi Government that only 1,080 out of 4,690 persons arrested under UAPA between 2018 and 2020 got bail.”

“During the latest Universal Periodic Review on 10th November 2022 at the Human Rights Council, states called on the Indian government to adopt a comprehensive law on the protection of human rights defenders; release all detained human rights defenders; review all restrictive laws including the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act; repeal or amend the Foreign Contribution Act 2020 to ensure the right to freedom of association and strengthen media freedom.” 

“In recent months we have continued to see raids and investigation of NGOs, detention of human rights defenders, journalists and protesters, restrictions on journalists and disruption of protests. On 7th September 2022, the Income Tax Department of India raided the offices of the Centre for Policy Research, a think tank in Delhi, non-governmental organisation Oxfam India and the Independent and Public Spirited Media Foundation, a media-funding body, in Bengaluru as part of a probe related to alleged violations of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act related to funds received by them.”

“Oxfam India said that income tax officials had barred their team members from leaving the premises during the raids and that the internet was shut down and their mobile phones were confiscated. The Income Tax Department has previously raided several media houses critical of the government, including Newsclick, Newslaundry, The Quint, Dainik Bhaskar and Bharat Samachar.”

“On 25th June 2022, human rights defender, author, and award-winning journalist Teesta Setalvad was arrested by the anti-terrorism wing of the Gujarat police at her house in Mumbai She faces charges of criminal conspiracy, forgery, and fabricating evidence in a case related to the 2002 Gujarat riots. Setalvad and her organisation – Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) – have played a prominent role in campaigning for justice on behalf of the victims of the 2002 massacre of close to 2,000 Muslims in the state of Gujarat, when now President Narendra Modi served as chief minister in the state.”

“On 28th September 2022, the Government of India declared the political Muslim group, the Popular Front of India (PFI) and its associated outfits, unlawful under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), banning them for five years for their alleged role in terror funding and links to global terror groups. PFI, which has over 500,000 members across India, says it works for the rights of Muslims and other marginalised communities in India. Since the announcement of the ban, the central intelligence agencies have conducted a series of crackdowns on PFI functionaries across different states. Over 250 members including students and protest leaders from Shaheen Bagh, New Delhi, have been arrested under the stringent UAPA by the police.”

“Bombay High Court order for the acquittal of academic and human rights defender GN Saibaba was reversed the following day by the Supreme Court of India. On 14th October 2022, former Delhi professor GN Saibaba was acquitted by the Bombay High Court in a case that alleged that he had links with banned Maoist organisations. The academic, who is wheelchair bound and 90 percent disabled, was arrested in May 2014, convicted under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA and sentenced to life in prison in 2017, after the police alleged that he was “likely to indulge in anti-national activities”.

“In June 2022, seven human rights organisations expressed concerns about his deteriorating health – concerns that were amplified following the death of Father Stan Swamy, who was also detained under the UAPA. In the order, the court observed that the sanction order issued to prosecute GN Saibaba under UAPA was “bad in law and invalid’ adding that while the state must fight terror with “unwavering resolve”, a civil democratic society cannot sacrifice the due process of law due to the perceived danger to national security.”

“On 19th October 2022, the Delhi High Court denied former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student leader Umar Khalid’s bail plea under the stringent UAPA saying that Khalid’s name had recurring mention in the events that led to the riots in northeast Delhi. Khalid has been in prison for over two years in a case relating to the alleged conspiracy behind the riots in February 2020. Amnesty International has previously said that “the repeated denial of bail to Umar Khalid is a huge blow to everyone exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in the country. Khalid’s continued detention under UAPA runs absolutely counter to the international human rights law and standards.”

P. K. Balachandran

P. K. Balachandran is a senior Indian journalist working in Sri Lanka for local and international media and has been writing on South Asian issues for the past 21 years.

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