The cancellation of another human rights NGO’s foreign funding license shows why a call by three UN experts for the repeal of India’s foreign funding law must be immediately heeded, Amnesty International India said today.
On 16 June, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs cancelled the registration under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) of Sabrang, an NGO run by prominent human rights defenders Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand. The Ministry said that the organization had violated several provisions of the FCRA, including by using foreign funding for prohibited purposes. The Ministry had suspended the FCRA registration of the NGO in September 2015. It stated that it was not satisfied with the reply of the NGO to the allegations against it.
“The Ministry of Home Affairs appears to be persecuting Sabrang for its founders’ work in seeking justice for the 2002 Gujarat violence,” said Aakar Patel, Executive Director, Amnesty International India. “It is not a coincidence that the most prominent uses of the FCRA have been against NGOs who seek to hold the government accountable for its actions.”
Sabrang Trust is run by prominent civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand. The activists have been instrumental in bringing about over a hundred convictions in cases related to the 2002 Gujarat violence. The month-long outbreak of violence led to the killing, according to official estimates, of at least 1044 people, mostly Muslims, and the rape of a significant number of women and girls. The activists have sought the prosecution of several Gujarat and central government officials and politicians, including the then-Chief Minister Narendra Modi, for their alleged complicity in the violence.
Javed Anand said in a press statement that the Ministry’s decision was “a mechanical reiteration of the very same allegations made earlier, in total disregard to the detailed and reasoned explanations and arguments put forward by the Trust.”
On 16 June, the UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, freedom of expression and freedom of association said in a statement: “We are alarmed that FCRA provisions are being used more and more to silence organisations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by Government.”
In April 2016 the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of association had reiterated that the ability to access foreign funding is an integral part of the right to freedom of association, and said that FCRA restrictions were not in conformity with international law, principle and standards.
The FCRA has been used by successive governments as a political tool to suppress dissent and harass groups critical of government view and action. The law has been used recently against Greenpeace India, Lawyers’ Collective and also two other organizations run by Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand.
“This pattern of using the FCRA as a pretext to go after NGOs that don’t toe the government line needs to stop,” said Aakar Patel.
“The government must end its NGO witch-hunt.”