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5 October 2023

Intimidation of human rights defenders and journalists including multiple raids, arrests, mis-information and labelling

Front Line Defenders strongly condemns the recent raids targeting human rights defenders, civil society organizations and journalists in India. On 2nd and 3rd October 2023, the Delhi Police and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) carried out raids in multiple locations in New Delhi, and in the States of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The NIA claim that the raids are linked to terror funding and terror related activities – is part of a dangerous pattern of labelling and targeting human rights defenders as terrorists as reprisal for their peaceful work.

On 3 October 2023, the Delhi Police arrested the founder of the Newsclick news website Prabir Purkayastha and one other. The arrests follow multiple raids at homes and offices of several journalists, academics and human rights defenders associated with Newsclick and seizure of electronic devices including phones and laptops. The raids have been conducted in connection to FIR 224/2023, filed on 17 August 2023 under Sections 13, 16, 17, 18, and 22 of India’s counter-terrorism legislation, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), along with offences under the Indian Penal Code.

The same day, the Delhi Police raided the home of Teesta Setalvad in Mumbai, whose bail application was only recently upheld by the Supreme Court of India in July 2023.

On 2 October, NIA carried out raids at 62 locations in the States of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana including homes and offices of human rights defenders associated with the Human Rights Forum, Indian Association of People, Civil Liberties Committee, Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners, and the Revolutionary Writers Association. The raids are linked to a FIR filed in November 2020 accusing activists of being linked to the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) (CPI(M)). In its statement, the Human Rights Forum denied any links to the CPI(M) and stated that several electronic devices including phones, laptops, hard drives; books and documents were seized during the raids.

The recent raids are part of escalating violence and intimidation against human rights defenders over the past several months. This includes raids, intimidation, and police/legal persecution against those speaking out against state policies.

On 20 September, local media in Jharkhand reported that the Special Branch of the Jharkhand State Police had initiated an inquiry into 64 organizations for alleged links to CPI(M). Those targeted include Jharkhand Jan Adhikar Mahasabha, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Adivasi Women’s Network, Bagaicha - late Stan Swamy’s organization, and Visthapan Vidrohi Jan Vikas Andalon, the organization that he had helped establish. On 21 September, over 25 civil rights bodies who have been named by the Jharkhand Police as targets of their investigation, wrote to the Director General of Police of Jharkhand, seeking clarification on the reasons for the investigation and denying any links to the CPI(M).

On 5 September 2023, eight locations across the state of Uttar Pradesh were raided by the NIA in connection with the case RC-01/2023/NIA-LKW which included human rights defenders and lawyers associated with PUCL, Bhagat Singh Student Morcha, and Samyukta Kisan Morcha. Seema Azad, the national secretary of PUCL, and her husband Vishwa Vijay were detained and questioned for 12 hours following the raid on their home. The NIA claim that the raids were conducted because “several frontal organizations and student wings have been tasked to motivate/recruit cadres and propagate the ideology of CPI(M) with the intent of waging a war against the Government of India.”.

The raids, and misinformation/labelling of human rights defenders as terrorists is extremely concerning especially as India prepares for national elections in 2024. At a time when human rights defenders should be valued for their contribution to communities and in promoting human rights and democratic values, the Indian authorities revamp a campaign of persecution and intimidation against them. The pattern of abuse highlighted in the arrest of 16 human rights defenders in the Bhima Koregaon case; the mass arrest of those campaigning peacefully against the regressive Citizenship Amendment Act in 2020; targeting of journalists and defenders from Indian administered Kashmir; and attacks/persecution of Dalit and indigenous defenders campaigning for rights including land, water and the environment.

Front Line Defenders is deeply concerned about the ongoing persecution and calls on Indian authorities to immediately cease its attacks on human rights defenders and organizations in India, release those currently imprisoned and enable an environment where defenders are able to carry out their human rights work free from the fear of reprisals.