August 18, 2016, New Delhi:
NCHRO demanded that the authorities must immediately drop all charges against Amnesty India, It is not a crime assembly and report human rights violations. The FIR against Amnesty India is indicative of the shrinking human rights space in the country and authorities must immediately drop all charges against Amnesty and stop intimidating dissenting voices. The true injustice is that human rights organization is being punished for reporting on torture, extra judicial killings and forced disappearances.
It has reported that; the police in Bengaluru have registered an FIR, under Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code, against Amnesty International India, highlighting once again the anachronism of the sedition law and its potential as a tool for harassment. Amnesty India had organized a function as part of its campaign to seek justice for “victims of human rights violations” in Jammu and Kashmir. The FIR was lodged on the basis of a complaint by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student outfit of the RSS. The India chapter of Amnesty International, rejected as "without substance" the allegations raised by the ABVP, and claimed that none of its employees shouted any anti-India slogans at any point in the event.
Introduced by the British colonial government to deal with Indians who challenged their rule, the sedition law was retained by independent India. Sedition carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, although convictions are rare. Successive governments have used it as a weapon to stifle dissent and silence critics. Thousands of Indians have been slapped with sedition charges. These include rights activist and doctor Binayak Sen for acting as an intermediary for the Maoists, Author Arundhati Roy, Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi for his cartoons against government corruption, student leader Kanhaiya Kumar for allegedly raising “anti-national slogans,” and folk singer Kovan for criticizing the government’s liquor policy. In 2011, 8,000 cases of sedition were filed in a single police station in Tamil Nadu state against villagers opposing the Kudankulam nuclear power plant.
A 1995 Supreme Court ruling clearly mentions that disaffection toward the government, however strongly worded, does not constitute sedition unless there is incitement to violence. Although sedition charges have rarely culminated in conviction, Section 124(a) is a handy weapon in the hands of the government as it can be used to harass and intimidate citizens who raise uncomfortable questions. Since sedition is a non-bailable and cognizable offence, a person facing charges can be arrested without warrant and could find himself behind bars for some weeks at least. It violates the right to freedom of speech and expression that the Indian Constitution’s Article 19 (1) (a) guarantees every Indian. Additionally, it criminalizes dissent, which is the very essence of a democracy.
Below is the excerpt from Aakar Patel, Amnesty International India executive director about the charges against Amnesty India:-
The filing of a complaint against us now, and the registration of a case of sedition, shows a lack of belief in fundamental rights and freedoms in India," Amnesty has been conducting research for over 50 years and the way we treat human rights is through evidence. For three years, we researched a report on Kashmir, the basis of which was as follows: since 1989, the Kashmir police have registered FIRs and investigated and filed charge sheets also in cases involving individuals from the Indian Army. These have been sent to the Centre for approval for prosecution in a civil court, which is possible by lifting Section 7 of the AFSPA. There is a mechanism within the AFSPA whereby the Centre can approve these prosecutions. But since 1989, not a single prosecution has been approved. So the families that have been affected by this have not received any form of closure. We were campaigning on their behalf. We were saying those who had been chargesheeted should be dealt with the way the Centre saw fit. That was the basis of the event. We had released the report last year, before which we sent it to the army but they did not respond. We added a couple of elements, like music and a play, and we also invited Kashmiri Pandits also to the event to talk about their plight. We went to Kashmir, spoke to survivors and victims in the cases that had been sent — there were approximately four dozen cases. They were very moving stories of how there was no response to the crime, no acknowledgement. The Indian state, at the level of the Jammu and Kashmir government, has registered the complaint of someone who is a victim, but it has not responded to the complaint in the way it is obliged to, to a citizen of this country. To me, that's a very disturbing fact and a democracy should be responsible to its citizens. It cannot look away when an investigation has been conducted and a chargesheet filed. There is evidence that has been sent to the Centre, to ignore it is not right. I don't believe there are two sides to this story and I don't believe that anybody who hears what we have to say through the report will disagree with what we are saying.
NCHRO believes the targeting of those who are at the forefront of defending fundamental rights and promoting the growth of civil society underscores human rights condition in the country. Instead of safeguarding the people's rights, the regime uses the legal system as a political instrument to undermine the very forces needed to sustain a rule of law. Authorities have abused legal process and viciously attacked individuals and professional organizations. Authorities should encourage the healthy exchange of views instead of governing the country by entrenching fear and silencing government critics.