India urged to halt harassment of rights activist
Global civil society alliance slams raid on facilities associated with government critic Harsh Mander
CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, has condemned a recent raid carried out on facilities associated with human rights defender Harsh Mander, director of the Centre for Equity Studies, and called on the Indian government to stop intimidating rights activists.
On Sept. 16, the Enforcement Directorate under the Ministry of Finance conducted the raid on Mander’s residence, the Centre for Equity Studies’ office and a children’s home run by the organization under the pretext of investigating money-laundering allegations against him. The raid was carried out several hours after he departed for Germany to attend a fellowship program.
Mander has been critical of the Narendra Modi government. He has raised concerns about how the government handled the pandemic, the increasing attacks on press freedom and the discriminatory citizenship law passed in 2019 which human rights groups have called “unconstitutional and divisive.”
Following the raid, more than 500 activists in India issued a joint statement in solidarity with Mander and condemned the intimidation tactics.
“The authorities must halt their harassment of human rights activist Harsh Mander. These actions conducted by the Enforcement Directorate are a clear tactic to intimidate and criminalize the defender. It also creates a chilling effect on government critics and is a strategy to force many to self-censorship,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS civic space researcher for Asia Pacific.
Similar raids were conducted by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights in October 2020 on two children’s homes associated with Mander based on accusations of financial irregularities and illicit activities.
These raids highlight an ongoing pattern of baseless and politically motivated criminal charges brought by the authorities against activists across India, CIVICUS claimed. This includes the use of a variety of restrictive laws, including national security and counter-terrorism legislation, to imprison rights activists, peaceful protesters and critics. Some have been in pre-trial detention for years.
“It is appalling that activists in India are facing harassment just for speaking up for human rights. The government must drop all charges against them and immediately and unconditionally release all those detained. It must also take steps to ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance or fear of reprisals,” said Benedict.
India’s rating was downgraded by the CIVICUS Monitor from “obstructed” to “repressed” in December 2019.