Mumbai: Recognising the alleged misuse of terror laws in India, several international human rights organisations have urged the global terrorism financing and money laundering watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), to call on the Indian government to stop prosecuting, intimidating and harassing human rights defenders and activists.
The American Bar Association Centre for Human Rights released a report titled ‘The adverse impact of counter terrorism laws on human rights defenders and FATF compliance’, analysing India’s three major terror and money laundering laws – the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Prevention of Money Laundering Act, and Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.
Similarly, three rights organisations – Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Security Network – in a joint statement have pointed to the exploitative nature of the terror and money laundering laws in India.
In the statement, the organisations have accused the Indian state of restricting civic space and stifling the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
“Draconian laws introduced or adapted to this end include the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). Their actions have flouted both FATF’s standards and international human rights law,” the group claims in their joint statement.
The American Bar Association, in its 65- page statement, had pointed to the growing trend of non-compliance of the FATF recommendations.
“The report finds that India’s counter-terrorism laws have expanded over time, becoming increasingly vague, and often overturning basic procedural safeguards for defendants,” the report reads.
India joined the FATF, an intergovernmental body comprising 40 member countries that is mandated to tackle money laundering, terrorist financing and other threats to the integrity of the global financial system, in 2010.
In its first year, the Indian government itself had recognised the risk posed by the non-profit sector as “low”.
The international rights organisations say that things changed since the BJP government came to power in 2014. “The authorities have used overbroad provisions in domestic law to silence critics and shut down their operations, including by cancelling their foreign funding licenses and prosecuting them using counterterrorism law and financial regulations.”
The reports were compiled and presented days before the FATF’s Mutual Evaluation Review (MER) concluded on November 3. The MER was to evaluate the anti-money laundering laws and the financing of terrorism in India and the coalition.
The American Bar Association has pointed to five different case studies from recent years, including the Elgar Parishad and journalist Siddique Kappan’s cases, to show how terror laws have been misused to crack down on dissenting voices in the country.
In the report, the Bar Association says, “The case of journalist Siddique Kappan and his co-accused – of whom, two are student activists, and another a taxi driver – is one of the starkest illustrations of the misuse of terror funding laws for political means.”
Kappan was in prison for over two years from October 5, 2020, facing multiple charges under the UAPA and the PMLA. He has worked as a journalist for over a decade, and at the time of his arrest, he served as a contributing reporter for a Malayalam-language online portal and was also secretary of the Delhi chapter of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists.
In September 2020, Kappan was sharing a taxi with two others to follow up on a story in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras, where a Dalit woman was raped. She later succumbed to her injuries in a Delhi hospital.
Kappan’s family has insisted that his low-paying employment and lack of proficiency in the local language (Hindi) forced him to share a taxi with two others who were also travelling to Hathras to pay a visit to the victim’s family.
However, before they could reach Hathras, the three passengers and the driver were detained by the police and a petty case of breach of peace was filed against them. The next day, another first information report invoking far graver sections of the Indian Penal Code and UAPA were registered against them.
Kappan’s prolonged incarceration, however, came to an end on September 9, 2022, when the Supreme Court granted him bail.
In its oral observations, the apex court raised serious questions over the prosecution’s case that Kappan and others had planned to incite violence. Responding specifically to the state’s counsel that “provocative” literature, which sought justice for the Hathras victim, had been seized from Kappan, the then-Chief Justice of India U.U. Lalit said that “everyone has a right to free expression”.
In the Elgar Parishad case, too, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), under the BJP government arrested 16 rights activists and academics for their alleged role in Naxalite activities.
Over five years later, the trial is yet to commence. Even as the accused persons continue to languish in jail, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) moved an NIA court seeking to record the statement of Surendra Gadling, one of the first persons to be arrested in the case, for his alleged role in terror funding.
The ED claimed in its application that Gadling had used his and his family members’ bank accounts to raise terror funds and received funds through a “bank account under a fictitious name.”