FATF urges India to stop harassing rights activists in the name of terror financing

Demonstrators join in a protest against riots following clashes between people demonstrating for and against the new citizenship law on March 3, 2020, in New Delhi, India.  - Reuters
Demonstrators join in a protest against riots following clashes between people demonstrating for and against the new citizenship law on March 3, 2020, in New Delhi, India. – Reuters

Global human rights organizations have urged the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to stop prosecuting and intimidating human rights activists, defenders and non-profit organizations in the country under the guise of countering terrorist financing from India.

The global counter on terrorism financing and money laundering is set to conduct its fourth periodic review of India’s record in combating illicit funding on November 6 (Monday), Amnesty International, Charity and Security Network and Human Rights Watch said in a joint statement.

Human rights monitors said Indian authorities have exploited FATF recommendations aimed at curbing terrorist financing as part of a coordinated campaign to restrict civil space and suppress the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Is.

“Strong laws introduced or adapted for this purpose include the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). Their actions violate both FATF standards and international human rights law,” the groups said.

“Indian authorities have weaponized the laws to crack down on human rights work by HRDs, activists and non-profit organizations in the country,” said Aakar Patel, chair of the board of Amnesty International India.

“Authorities are using allegations of fraudulent foreign funding and terrorism to target, intimidate, harass and silence critics, in clear violation of FATF standards.”

Broad definition of “terrorist act”

During its third FATF review in 2010, the Government of India itself considered the risk posed by the non-profit sector as “low”.

However, since the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, authorities have used sweeping provisions in domestic law to silence critics and shut down their operations, including their foreign Including revoking funding licenses and using anti-terrorism measures to prosecute them. According to the statement, laws and financial regulations.

The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, first enacted in 1976, aimed to prevent and regulate foreign interference in Indian politics. However, in 2010, the government redrafted the law with a greater focus on nonprofit organizations, while relaxing oversight of foreign funding for political parties, rights groups said.

“Over the past 10 years, authorities have used this law to revoke the licenses of more than 20,600 nonprofit organizations, including 6,000 in 2022, blocking their access to foreign funding.”

In July 2022, the groups said that India’s Home Ministry removed the list of non-profit organizations whose FCRA licenses were canceled without any explanation and stopped publishing this data.

The Indian government has particularly targeted human rights groups and activists working to protect the rights of the most socially and economically marginalized populations.

According to media reports, in 2023, the Home Ministry canceled the FCRA licenses of a leading research group, the Center for Policy Research, and a social justice advocacy organization, the Center for Equity Studies.

Indian authorities have also frequently used India’s primary anti-terrorism law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), to arbitrarily arrest and detain human rights defenders and activists.

The law was introduced in 2004 as a reform to the stringent Prevention of Terrorism Act, but the government amended it in 2008, 2012 and 2019 to include several problematic provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

These include its broad definition of “terrorist act”, the reversal of the presumption of innocence, and provisions for prolonged detention without trial or charge.

To meet FATF membership requirements, India amended the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in 2012 to include threats to economic security and to bring the definition of “person” chargeable under that law in line with international and international law. -Extended to government organizations also.

India’s 2019 amendment extended the applicability of the law to organizations and groups as well as individuals.

Anti-terrorism financing provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act have been misused against several student activists who organized protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.

The government accused students of “organizing” the February 2020 Delhi riots, which left at least 53 people dead, mostly Muslims; and used the law against 16 human rights activists, eight of whom have been detained without trial since 2018 in the Bhima Koregaon case.

11% cases were closed due to lack of evidence

Anti-terrorist financing and other provisions have also been misused to detain prominent Kashmiri human rights activist Khurram Pervez, who is the program coordinator of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, and Irfan Mehraj, a journalist associated with the coalition.

Despite increased use of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, only 2.2% of cases registered under the law from 2016 to 2019 resulted in court conviction.

Police closed about 11% of the cases due to lack of evidence, while the rest remained pending.

The delay in filing charges in these cases and the acquittal of many people shows that the government is using anti-terrorism laws to detain critics for years and the judicial process to harass and punish government critics. Doing it as a tool.

The Government of India also enacted the 2002 Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) to meet the membership conditions set by FATF. In recent years, authorities have used the law to attack, intimidate, and harass human rights defenders, activists, and non-profit organizations by supplementing charges under the FCRA, freezing their assets, and burdening them with stringent bail conditions. it used.

Amnesty International India has been subject to action under PMLA by freezing its bank accounts in September 2020, which has halted its work for the last three years without even getting funds to secure effective legal representation Is.

“India’s three laws together create a dangerous arsenal with debilitating consequences for civil society and human rights activists,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“The FATF must not allow the Indian government to exploit the organization’s recommendations for its own political purposes – to silence all forms of dissent.”

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