India: Alarming assault on civic freedoms in Prime Minister Modi’s second term- CIVICUS

India Police CAA

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term in power was sustained by a pattern of repression to undermine democracy and civic space, the global civil society alliance CIVICUS said today. A new CIVICUS Monitor report, published ahead of the 2024 elections, shows that the Indian government used an array of restrictive laws and policies to silence dissent by targeting critics including civil society groups, human rights defenders and independent media.

The report highlights how civil society organisations have faced an increased crackdown through the cancellation of their registrations, raids and investigations by law enforcement agencies. The authorities also blocked access to foreign funding for civil society groups, critical of the government, through the restrictive Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which the UN has deemed in contravention of international law and standards.

Human rights defenders critical of the government were also implicated and jailed in politically motivated cases under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), a draconian anti-terror law. Under the UAPA’s draconian provisions, activists remain in detention for long periods and are often denied bail even on health grounds as exemplified in the Bhima Koregaon case. India also witnessed an increase in attacks and restrictions against independent media and journalists in recent years such as the targeting of NewsClick with raids, searches and seizures by various government agencies.

“The increasing use of restrictive laws during Prime Minister Modi’s second term to crackdown on civil society, human rights defenders and independent media, highlights a government that has become intolerable of any form of dissent. These laws have become tools for judicial harassment and are incompatible with India’s international human rights obligations as well as India’s Constitution”, said Marianna Belalba Barreto, Research Lead for the CIVICUS Monitor

CIVICUS also highlights in the report that since the 2019 elections, major protests in India have been met with arbitrary arrests and excessive use of force by the police, including protests against the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) 2019 and the farmers protests.  Authorities used Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a colonial-era provision, to arbitrarily restrict or deny assemblies.  Internet shutdowns were also used to prevent people gathering in protests and fabricated charges were brought against protesters, with some still remaining in detention.

Human rights work in Kashmir has almost come to a complete standstill due to arrests of activists and continuous harassment of civil society organisations and activists through raids and interrogations. Among them include human rights defender Khurram Parvez from the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, who has been detained under the UAPA for more than two years. Journalists who report on critical issues in Kashmir have also been targeted.

“The systematic crackdown on peaceful protests and the jailing of protesters for exercising their right to peaceful assembly shows the erosion of democratic space during Modi’s second term. In Kashmir, the heavy-handed repression by the Indian government against critical voices and the failure to ensure accountability has left the region in a climate of fear”, said Belalba.

CIVICUS calls on the government to drop all charges against human rights defenders, activists and protesters, and immediately and unconditionally release all those detained; review and amend India’s criminal laws to conform to international law and standards and take steps to ensure that all human rights defenders in India are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance or fear of reprisals.

Civic space in India is rated as “repressed” by the CIVICUS Monitor

About the CIVICUS Monitor

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society worldwide. CIVICUS has over 15,000 members in 175 countries

Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor to provide an evidence base for action to improve civic space on all continents. Civic freedoms in 198 countries and territories are categorised as either ‘closed,’ ‘repressed,’ ‘obstructed,’ ‘narrowed’ or ‘open,’ based on a methodology that combines several data sources on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

Link to report: 

For more information please contact: [email protected]

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