Amnesty International, C&SN and HRW accuse Indian government of harassing human rights activists and NGOs

The organisations seek FATF’s intervention days before the India’s performance with respect to action taken against money laundering and terrorist funding is up for review

Updated - November 06, 2023 10:47 pm IST

Published - November 06, 2023 08:42 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The logo of Amnesty International. File Photo

The logo of Amnesty International. File Photo | Photo Credit: Reuters

Accusing the Indian government of prosecuting, intimidating, and harassing human rights defenders, activists, and non-profit organisations on the pretext of countering terrorist financing, Amnesty International, Charity & Security Network (C&SN), and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have sought the intervention of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

Amnesty International is headquartered in the United Kingdom, while C&SN has its main office in Washington DC and HRW is headquartered in New York City in the United States. Their joint statement came on November 3, days before the start of FATF’s periodic review of India’s performance with respect to the action taken against money laundering and terrorist funding.

They have accused the authorities of exploiting FATF’s recommendations “to restrict civic space and stifle the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly”. “Draconian laws introduced or adapted to this end include the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA)...,” the groups said.

“During its third FATF review, in 2010, the Indian government itself recognised the risk posed by the non-profit sector as ‘low’. However, since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, the authorities have used overbroad provisions in domestic law to silence critics and shut down their operations, including by cancelling their foreign funding licences and prosecuting them using counterterrorism law and financial regulations,” the groups alleged.

They said that in the past 10 years, the authorities had cancelled FCRA licences of over 20,600 non-profit organisations, including 6,000 in 2022, blocking their access to foreign funding.

“Indian authorities have also frequently used the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), India’s primary counterterrorism law, to arbitrarily arrest and detain human rights defenders and activists...the counterterrorism funding provisions of the UAPA have been misused against several student activists who organised protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act...and used the law against 16 human rights activists, eight of whom have remained detained without trial in the Bhima Koregaon case since 2018,” they alleged.

The groups said only 2.2% of the cases registered under the UAPA from 2016 to 2019 had ended in a court conviction.

“The police closed nearly 11% of cases for lack of evidence, while the rest remained pending. The delay in filing charges and several acquittals in these cases show that the government is using the counterterrorism law to keep critics locked up for years and use the judicial process itself as a tool to persecute and punish government critics,” they alleged.

They also accused the Indian government of using the PMLA to “attack, intimidate, and harass human rights defenders, activists, and non-profit organisations”. “Amnesty International India has been subject to action under the PMLA through the freezing of its bank accounts in September 2020, putting its work on hold for the past three years, without funds to even secure effective legal representation,” they said.

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