This report describes how the Indian government has weaponized counter-terrorism and money laundering laws to target civil society organisations and human rights defenders with a focus on the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, Unlawful Activities(Prevention) Act and Prevention of Money Laundering Act and highlights emblematic cases of the crackdown suffered by journalists, academics, human rights activists, and students, including Kashmiri human rights defenders and the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society.
Topics: Financial Action Task Force (FATF) processes, Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), Unlawful Activities(Prevention) Act (UAPA) and Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), conclusion, recommendations
Terms: abuse of law, lawfare, disinformation, denial of right to freedom of association, denial of right to freedom of expression, FCRA, UAPA, PMLA
Unfortunately,the Indian government has exploited the 2010 and 2013 FATF assessment report to tighten its arsenal of financial and counter-terrorism laws which are routinely used to target civil society organisations. This has resulted in a shrinking of civic space and a chilling effect on civil society. In response to FATF’s recommendation that India is not in full compliance with FATF’s standards on terrorist financing and money laundering, the Indian government has brought in laws including Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), 2010 and its 2020amendment, and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002 and amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967 without any consultation with civil society. These laws have hindered the legitimate human rights work of civil society actors and organisations, including Amnesty International,and enabled the government to attack them with smear campaigns….The briefing paper analyses the FCRA, the UAPA and the PMLA and highlights the manner in which the Indian authorities have systematically targeted civil society,including by intimidation, harassment, investigation and prosecution on trumped up money laundering and terrorism related charges. It also highlights the emblematic cases of the crackdown suffered by journalists, academics, human rights activists, students, and political opponents who have faced the brunt of these laws since 2010. The financial regulations contained within the three acts discussed in this briefing cannot be viewed in isolation and need to be considered in the broader context of the misuse of counter-terrorism powers in India. These laws must not be allowed to further the clampdown on dissent inIndia which has systematically eroded the rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression, particularly targeting civil society actors and religious minorities….
Another case where UAPA has been misused to intimidate and arbitrarily detain human rights defenders is Khurram Parvez - a prominent Kashmiri human rights activist and Program Coordinator of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS). JKCCS is one of Jammu & Kashmir’s most prominent human rights groups and has methodically documented torture, indefinite detention and enforced disappearances by the Indian authorities in Jammu & Kashmir. The work of JKCCS was heavily referenced in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ 2018 and 2019 reports on the situation of human rights in Kashmir. On 21 November 2021, the NIA, a powerful investigation agency for terror-related crimes arrested Parvez on what appears to be politically motivated charges of terrorist funding, being a member of a terrorist organisation, criminal conspiracy, and waging war against the state.160 Since 2021, Parvez remains detained in a high-security prison in Delhi without trial for allegedly violating Section 17 of UAPA which criminalises terror funding, in addition to other charges of “criminal conspiracy”, “waging war against the government”, and“conspiracy to wage war against the government” under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), as well as for “raising funds for a terrorist act”, “conspiracy”,“recruitment of any person for a terrorist act” and “membership of a terrorist organisation” under UAPA.
On 21 March 2023, journalist Irfan Mehraj who was also associated with JKCCS was arrested in the same case as Khurram Parvez by the NIA. In an extension of the crackdown on JKCCS, on 1 August, the NIA raided the Kashmir residence of Parvez Imroz, founder of JKCCS and summoned him to the NIA office in Delhi where he was interrogated for three hours. Raids without a legal basis on leaders of civil society groups constitutes a clear violation of the rights to freedom of association and expression, as enshrined in the ICCPR and potentially violates the right to privacy, liberty and security of persons when they are accompanied by detention. In 2022, Amnesty International documented a 12% increase in the use of UAPA in Jammu & Kashmir since 5 August 2019 when the Indian government unilaterally abrogated Article 370 of the Indian Constitution - which had until then guaranteed far-reaching powers and autonomy to the state of Jammu & Kashmir on a wide range of issues, with the exception of foreign affairs, defence and communication - and effectively extended its control over the region.