‘Regressive Laws’ Continue To Curb Freedom Of Speech & Expression In India: Amnesty Annual Report [Read Report]

Vidushi Sahani
22 Feb 2017 4:55 PM GMT
‘Regressive Laws’ Continue To Curb Freedom Of Speech & Expression In India: Amnesty Annual Report [Read Report]
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In its annual State of World’s Human Rights Report for 2016-17, Amnesty International (AI) has said the authorities have used repressive laws to curb freedom of expression and to silence critics.

The NGO report highlights and expresses serious concerns over burning human rights issues plaguing the nation.

The report slams the repeated use of sedition laws in the country to curb freedom of speech and expression of the both the general public and human rights defenders.

It states that ‘regressive’ laws were used to persecute people who legitimately exercised their right to freedom of expression. The AI report makes striking references to several instances, including the JNU case where students were accused on ‘anti-national sloganeering’. It states that India’s information technology law has also been used to persecute people for their activities on social media.

Encapsulating the state of human rights in the country ,the AI has drawn attention to prime areas where violations have been reported. Apart from its scathing remarks on curbs on freedom of speech, it states, ‘vigilante cow protection groups carried out several attacks. Thousands protested against discrimination and violence faced by Dalit communities. Millions of people opposed changes to labour laws. Marginalised communities continued to be frequently ignored in the government’s push for faster economic growth.’

The report also makes a passing reference to the recent demonetisation of currency notes and states the move ‘intended as a crackdown on the country’s black market, severely affected the livelihoods of millions’.

The Amnesty report alleges that journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders were harassed and attacked with impunity and have faced such intimidation and attacks from state and non-state actors,.

The report cites several instances from Bastar region, where activists faced the maximum threats and harassment. Killings of journalists Karun Mishra, gunned down for targeting illegal soil mining, and Rajdeo Ranjan, shot dead after having faced threats by political leaders for his writings, have been pointed out.

Condemning the Central government’s move to restrict foreign funding for civil society though the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), the report states that the move is meant to ‘harass NGOs’. It points out suspension of FCRA licence of Lawyers Collective, the government’s refusal to renew FCRA licences of 25 NGOs and cancellation of licences of seven other NGOs, including Greenpeace India, Navsarjan, Anhad, and two NGOs run by human rights defenders Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand. It also noted that that UN Special Rapporteurs had earlier urged the government to repeal the FCRA, as the restrictions were not in conformity with international law, principles and standards.

The report points out several instances to put forth that discrimination and communal disharmony are rampant in the nation. It claims that Dalits and Adivasis have continued to face widespread abuses. ‘According to official statistics released in August, more than 45,000 crimes against members of Scheduled Castes and almost 11,000 crimes against Scheduled Tribes were reported in 2015’, the report states. Citing the Rohith Vemula case, AI criticises the role of government in arresting students and faculty peacefully protesting at the University of Hyderabad. The report further states that Dalits in several states were denied entry into public and social spaces, and faced discrimination in accessing public services. The NGO also alleges that racism is building in the nation and that black people have often been at the receiving end and have faced racist harassment, discrimination and violence in various cities.

It also highlights the atrocities committed by the Vigilante cow protection groups, which harassed and attacked people in states, including Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, in the name of upholding laws prohibiting the killing of cows.

On the state of children in the nation, AI states that as per official records, reports of crimes against children in 2015 rose by 5 per cent compared with the previous year. The report draws attention to amendments carried out in the child labor laws which made exception to ‘family enterprises’ for those under 14 and for children between 14 and 18 to work in ‘non-hazardous’ occupations. It also states that the Central government’s draft national education policy makes no mention of human rights education.

The NGO also indicts India for failing miserably on the corporate accountability front. It states that the government has continued to acquire land using the Coal Bearing Areas Act, which allows for the acquisition of Adivasi land without consent. It notes that the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing stated that most forced evictions occurred with impunity in India.

‘In February, the Ministry of Environment approved the expansion of a coal mine in Kusmunda, Chhattisgarh state, operated by the state-owned company South Eastern Coalfields, despite authorities not having obtained the free, prior and informed consent of affected Adivasi communities’ the report points out.

The report also makes reference to the convenient resort of law enforcement to extra judicial killings. Adivasis are often labeled as Maoists and gunned down by security personnel, it states. Pointing out atrocities have also been committed by many armed groups, the report states, that while the CPM was suspected of extortion, abductions and unlawful killings in central and south India, similar crimes have been reported from armed groups in the north east.

Dwelling on the conditions in state of Jammu and Kashmir, the report states, ‘Tensions between India and Pakistan intensified following an attack by gunmen on an army base in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir and the state witnessed months of curfew and a range of human rights violations by authorities.’

As per the report, the curfew imposed led to undermining of human rights with suspension of communication facilities, inaccessible medical facilities and hindered mass media.

The report observes that the nation has not witnessed much improvement on the gender front.

While reported crimes against women continue to rise, women from marginalized communities continue to face discrimination and find it harder to report cases of violence against them.

The report also points out that flawed draft law on trafficking continues to criminalise soliciting in public, leaving sex workers vulnerable to a range of human rights abuses. On the rights of LGBT community, it tags the cabinet Bill on transgender people’s rights as flawed.

Read the Report here.

This article has been made possible because of financial support from Independent and Public-Spirited Media Foundation.

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