India: Ongoing harassment against the NGO Lawyers Collective and its co-founders

12/07/2019
Urgent Appeal

New information
IND 004 / 0519 / OBS 043.2
Judicial harassment
India
July 11, 2019

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in India.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the ongoing harassment against the Indian NGO Lawyers Collective and its co-founders and lawyers Mr. Anand Grover and Ms. Indira Jaising. Lawyers Collective is a prominent public interest service provider in Indiawith an established record of setting high standards in human rights advocacy, legal aid and litigation [1].

According to the information received, on July 11, 2019, at around 5 am, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided the office of the Lawyers Collective in New Delhi, its other office in Mumbai, as well as the residences of Ms. Indira Jaising and Mr Anand Grover in New Delhi.

The raids follow the First Information Report (FIR) filed by the CBI on June 13, 2019, in a case against Lawyers Collective and Anand Grover for alleged violation of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), relying on an investigation report of January 2016 of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Although the CBI’s FIR did not name Ms. Indira Jaising as an accused, the complaint filed by the MHA, which is part of the FIR, mentions allegations against her. The MHA report has been challenged by Lawyers Collective in January 2017 and the case is under consideration by the High Court of Bombay (see background information).

The Observatory condemns the ongoing harassment against Lawyers Collective, Ms. Indira Jaising,and Mr. Anand Grover by the Government of India. The Observatory calls upon the Indian authorities to put an immediate end to these acts of harassment, which seem to be aimed to punish Lawyers Collectiveand its representatives for their human rights work, including court litigation in cases involving human rights violations.

Background information:

On May 31, 2016, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) suspended the FCRA registration of Lawyers Collective. In addition, the Ministry of Home Affairs leaked the suspension notice to the press before Lawyers Collective received a copy. This suspension of the FCRA registration was based on allegations that Lawyers Collective, in particular Mr. Grover and Ms. Indira Jaising, co-founders of the Lawyers Collective, had violated FCRA regulations.

These allegations include the following violations of FCRA regulations: a) remunerations paid by Lawyers Collective to Ms. Jaising for services provided by her while she was also serving as a government servant (as the Additional Solicitor General of India); b) the reimbursement of expenses for telephone and internet incurred by Mr. Grover while he was serving as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health; c) Lawyers Collective’s use of funds it had received through the FCRA to organise dharnas [2] and rallies. Lawyers Collective has denied all the aforementioned allegations.

The FCRA license was subsequently not renewed on October 28, 2016, and then cancelled on November 27, 2016. Lawyers Collective challenged the cancellation and non-renewal on January 25, 2017 and March 31, 2017, respectively in the High Court of Bombay which is under consideration. FCRA cancellation and non-renewal were based on this report by the MHA.

In January 2017, the Bombay High Court passed an interim order unfreezing the domestic and non-FCRA bank accounts of Lawyers Collective. The Court ruled that while the Government of India had powers under the FCRA to “regulate or, even prevent the acceptance of foreign funds by an association, the Act did not provide for a government to stifle the very functioning of individuals or associations”.

On May 8, 2019, a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi issued a notice in a petition filed on May 6 by an organisation called ‘Lawyers Voice.’ The petition demanded that the Government of India initiate criminal proceedings againstLawyers Collective, Mr. Anand Grover, and Ms. Indira Jaising, for the alleged misuse of foreign funding under the 2010 FCRA.

The bench issued the notice despite the fact that the petition did not provide any supporting information, and that the cancellation of Lawyers Collective’s FCRA licence was still being challenged by Lawyers Collective before the High Court of Bombay.

On May 15, 2019, Mr. Anil Kumar Dhasmana, Under-Secretary of the MHA, wrote to the Director of the CBI requesting “further investigation as per law” against Lawyers Collective.

On June 13, 2019, the CBI filed a criminal case against Lawyers Collective, Mr. Anand Grover, and other representatives of the organisation under Sections 120-B (“criminal conspiracy”), 406 (“criminal breach of trust”), 420 (“cheating”) and 199 (“false statement made in declaration”)of the Indian Penal Code (IPC); and Sections 33 (“making of false statement, declaration or delivering false accounts”), 35 (“punishment for contravention of any provisions of the Act”), 37 (“penalty for offences where no separate punishment has been provided”), and 39 (“offences by companies”) of the FCRA; and Sections 13 (1) (d) and 13 (2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act (PC) 1988[3]. The charges filed by the CBI were based on a report of the MHA, which had resulted in the suspension of Lawyers Collective’s FCRA license on May 31, 2016.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities in India, urging them to:

i. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Lawyers Collective, Mr. Anand Grover, Ms. Indira Jaising as well as of all human rights defenders in India and ensure that they are able to carry out their activities without hindrance;

ii. Take steps to repeal or comprehensively amend the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, in line with the legal analysisof the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association;

iii. Conform to the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular its Articles 1 and 12.2.;

iv. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights instruments ratified by India.

Addresses:

Mr. Shri Narendra Damodardas Modi, Prime Minister of India, Fax: + 91 11 2301 6857. E-mail: pmosb@pmo.nic.in / manmo@sansad.in
Mr. Amit Shah, Union Minister of Home Affairs of India, Fax: +91 11 2309 2979. Email: dirfcra-mha@gov.in
Mr. Rajiv Gauba, Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs of India, Email: hshso@nic.in
Justice Ranjan Gogoi,Chief Justice of India, Supreme Court, of India, Fax: +91 11 233 83792, Email: supremecourt@nic.in
Justice (Retd.) H.L. Dattu, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of India, Fax +91 11 2465 1329. Email: chairnhrc@nic.in
Mr. Khaleel Ahmad, Focal Point on Human Rights Defenders, National Human Rights Commission of India, Email: hrd-nhrc@nic.in
H.E. Mr. Rajiv Kumar Chander, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 906 86 96, Email: mission.india@ties.itu.int
H.E. Mr. Manjeev Singh Puri, Embassy of India to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg in Brussels, Belgium, Fax: +32 2 6489638 / +32 2 6451869

Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of India located in your country.

***
Geneva-Paris, July 11, 2019

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
• Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29
• Tel and fax FIDH: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

[1] Lawyers Collective is based in New Delhi with its registered office in Mumbai and is a group of lawyers with a mission to empower and change the status of marginalised groups through the effective use of law, and an engagement in human rights advocacy, legal aid and litigation.Moreover, both Ms. Jaising and Mr. Grover are internationally renowned human right lawyers who have a long history of engaging with the United Nations (UN) system. Ms. Jaising is a former member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Mr. Grover is a former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health.
[2] A form of peaceful demonstration, consisting in sitting and fasting at the doorstep of an offender until death or the demand is granted.
[3] Section 13 (2) - “Any public servant who commits criminal misconduct shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall be not less than one year but which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine”, read with Section 13 (1) (d) “A public servant is said to commit the offence of criminal misconduct, if he,- (i) by corrupt or illegal means, obtains for himself or for any other person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage; or (ii) by abusing his position as a public servant, obtains for himself or for any other person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage; or (iii) while holding office as a public servant, obtains for any person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage without any public interest”.

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