A Greenpeace senior campaigner was stopped on Sunday morning from boarding a flight to London where she was to brief British MPs on the rights of forest-dwelling communities affected by coal mining.
A statement from Greenpeace said that Ms. Pillai had a valid business visa for six months to visit London where she was scheduled to address British Parliamentarians on January 14. She was invited by the British MPs to talk about her campaigning with local communities in Mahan, Madhya Pradesh, where a proposed coal mining project led by Essar, a London-based company, threatens to uproot the lives and livelihoods of the forest community which lives there.
Coming a few months after the blocking of funds to Greenpeace by the ministry of home affairs the NGO has reacted with shock. Ms. Pillai expressed her disappointment over the government riding roughshod over people working to protect democratic rights in the country. She added that her right to freedom of movement has been infringed and there was an attempt to treat her like a criminal.
Ms Pillai was told by the airport authorities that she is now banned from leaving India, even though she has no criminal convictions against her. Her passport has been stamped with the word: OFFLOAD, according to the statement.
The immigration officials told her they are not opposed to her travelling, but they are just following orders from the Indian government.
This is not the first time a Greenpeace campaigner has had problems. In September 2014, Ben Hargreaves – a UK national was refused entry to India, despite having a valid visa.
Greenpeace India’s Executive Director, Samit Aich in the statement said, “The government’s intentions are clear — they are trying to intimidate and bully Greenpeace and its employees but I would only reiterate that such acts only make us more resolute to continue our campaigns on protecting Indian people and India’s environment. We will not shy away from asking tough questions to the highest authorities. Such systematic excesses by the government are a shame and cause of worry for the Indian civil society. At a time when the whole world is making a strong pitch to safeguard freedom of speech and democratic rights, this action by the world’s largest democracy is problematic.”
Greenpeace India has written to the Ministry of Home and External Affairs and to the Airport Authority of India asking the government to explain the legal basis for the ban on Ms. Pillai leaving the country.