Amnesty report condemns ‘growing intolerance’ in India

London: Authorities in India failed to stop “incidents of religious violence” and often “contributed to tensions through polarising speeches”, Amnesty International said on Wednesday, as it condemned “growing intolerance” that led to attacks on journalists, authors, artists and rights activists.

The London-based rights body in its annual report for 2015-16 warned against worldwide assault of freedoms with many governments “brazenly” breaking international law, including an “intensified crackdown on key freedoms” in India.

“Scores of artists, writers and scientists returned national honours in protest against what they said was a climate of growing intolerance,” the report said on India.

“Authorities clamped down on civil society organisations critical of official policies, and increased restrictions on foreign funding. Religious tensions intensified, and gender and caste-based discrimination and violence remained pervasive. Censorship and attacks on freedom of expression by hardline Hindu groups grew,” it added.

Aakar Patel, Executive Director of Amnesty India, said: “In 2015, India saw several backslides on human rights. The government intensified restrictions on civil society organisations…”

“What is heartening is that there has been opposition to the erosion of rights. The widespread outrage around incidents of religious intolerance, a Supreme Court ruling striking down an oppressive law on free speech online, the many public protests against ill-conceived reforms to land acquisition laws – these offer hope that 2016 can be a better year for human rights in India.”

Amnesty rebuked Indian authorities for “failing to prevent many incidents of religious violence, and sometimes contributing to tensions through polarising speeches and pervasive caste-based discrimination and violence”.

“There were several instances of intimidation and attacks against journalists, authors, artists and human rights defenders by religious and caste-based groups. Two rationalist writers were killed in attacks thought to be related to their criticism of religious intolerance and idolatry.”

Laws which did not meet international standards on freedom of expression were used to persecute human rights defenders and others, the report said.

It also highlighted “restrictive foreign funding laws” being used to repress NGOs critical of the government.

The government took a series of actions against Greenpeace India, including preventing one of its campaigners from travelling to the UK in January, ordering the organisation’s bank accounts to be frozen in April and cancelling its Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) in September. High Courts ruled that some of these steps were illegal. PTI

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