India’s anti-terror laws being used to target non-profits, activists, says report ahead of FATF visit

The FATF will visit India this month for an ‘onsite evaluation’.

WrittenBy:Sumedha Mittal
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Ahead of the Financial Action Task Force’s India visit to probe alleged misuse of local laws to crackdown on non-profits, a report published by a US-based rights group has alleged that India’s expanding scope of anti-terror laws have “wide-ranging adverse impacts” on rights defenders and non-profit organisations.  

The report, published by American Bar Association’s Centre for Human Rights, titled ‘The adverse impact of counter terrorism laws on human rights defenders and FATF compliance’, analysed India’s three major terror and money laundering laws – the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Prevention of Money Laundering Act, and Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act. 

The 65-page report said the Modi-government has “used FATF compliance as a justification” to expand the country’s counter-terrorism and counter-terrorism financing laws. But the amendments to these laws are facilitating the “persecution of human rights defenders”, targeted for “critiquing the government”. 

The FATF or Financial Action Task Force, a global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog set up by the G-7 countries, will visit India this month for an “onsite evaluation”. Its assessment will likely come up for discussion in June next year. 

Taking note of the alleged incidents of stringent laws being used to “prosecute” non-profit organisations or human rights defenders, the report mentioned “case studies” – including the arrest of journalist Siddique Kappan, Bhima Koregaon case, terror funding charges invoked against anti-CAA protestors like Khalid Saifi and journalist Waheedur Rehman Parra. It said the list was “not exhaustive”.

The report also spotlighted a “trend” of alleged non-compliance with FATF recommendations that required its members to respect international human rights, human rights defenders, and the right of NPOs to operate despite potentially being critical of the ruling government. 

These trends included the use of “vague allegations”, “inconsistent evidence” and extensive pre-trial detention to turn the process into “punishment” for those critical of the government. The report noted that in some cases, the Indian courts also spotlighted this. “As such, government actors are violating the principles of fair trial and due process, while also attacking the credibility of the judiciary.”

The report said some civil society organisations in India have become “targets of the Indian ruling administration’s misuse of counter-terrorism laws as punishment for their work.” And this results in “silencing of political opinion in the country which will impact democracy, the rule of law, and the credibility of India as an international partner in counter-terrorism.”

‘Punitive actions, attempt to delegitimise civil society’ 

The report stated that no risk assessment was carried out before amending laws such as the UAPA, PMLA and FCRA. Instead, the top officials in the Modi government have “consistently sought to delegitimise civil society and human rights defenders”.  

It said the repeated portrayal of activists and non-profits as those indulging in misuse of foreign funds, and engaging in religious conversion and anti-development activities has “encouraged” investigating agencies to “charge and arrest them”. 

Terming the UAPA’s definition of terrorism “overboard”, the report said this definition is further compounded by “vague” allegations. It claimed that government agencies tainted “all legitimate political activity” as terrorism. 

The report said members of the civil society are often accused of allegations that are “neither particularised nor specific”, but “vague speculations, inferences, and insinuations”. 

It also cited an answer in the Rajya Sabha by the Amit Shah-led home ministry, which stated that in more than 5,027 cases lodged between 2016 to 2020, as many as 24,134 people are accused. And 97 percent of them are undertrials. 

On the PMLA, the report alleged that the law grants “extraordinary powers” to the Enforcement Directorate to make arrests and seizures. It added that the PMLA empowered the government to “act punitively against human rights workers”.

Pointing to the “near impossibility” of bail in UAPA and PMLA cases, it said these legislations have turned into “preventive detention laws”.

Citing the Bhima Koregaon case, the report said the prolonged incarceration of activists, lawyers and political opponents has a “chilling effect”. “In the Bhima Koregaon case, five years after the first round of arrests took place in 2018, the trial has not yet begun.” 

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