South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders deplores the continued harassment of Indian social activist Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand by the Indian government authorities; the punishment of Gonoshasthaya Kendra founder Zafrullah Chowdhury by the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal for contempt of court for expressing concern over the conviction of David Bergmen; and threats and intimidation by intelligence agencies against Pakistani human right Defender Noor e Maryam Kanwer, the Chairperson/Director of Pakistan Youth Alliance.
SAHR considers these attacks against social activists as symptomatic of the rapidly declining space for civil society across countries in South Asia.
By the end of April 2015, India had cancelled the registration of nearly 9,000 foreign-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs), on the allegation that they didn’t comply with the country’s tax codes, especially singling out international NGOs and pressure groups such as Ford Foundation and Greenpeace along with their local partners including freezing their bank accounts.
Further, in July 2015, the Indian Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) carried out raids on the offices and house of social activist Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand. The CBI had also searched the premises of Gulam Mohammed Peshimam and the office of Sabrang Communications and Publishing in relation to the same allegation. The raids were conducted despite Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand’s full cooperation with the ongoing investigation on allegations of financial irregularities. The singling of Teesta Setalvad and her husband is seen as vindictive action due to their persistence in fighting for justice for thousands of victims of 2002 Gujarat riots that happened when the present Prime Minister of India was the Chief Minister of the State. In Bangladesh, in June 2015 the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) found Dr Zafruallah Chowdhury guilty of contempt of court for criticising the punishment of British journalist David Bergman and fined him Tk 5,000 with a new petition filed afresh in July to bring contempt of court proceedings against him for allegedly derogatory remarks about the tribunal.
The continued death threats, intimidation and harassment by intelligence agencies in Pakistan against local human right defender Noor e Maryam Kanwer for supporting Voice of Baloch Missing Person (VBMP) and for actively taking part in the Baloch rights movement is a chilling reminder of the murder of Sabeena Mahmood for supporting the same cause.
SAHR notes that these are but a few examples of the persecution perpetuated against human rights defenders in the region and the decline of the space for civil society and freedom of expression and protest.
SAHR expresses its deep consternation at the continued persecution of and threats against human rights defenders and urges the governments of South Asia to put an immediate end to the abuse of power and authority vested in them by the people for political or personal gains and to silence dissenting voices.
Dr. Nimalka Fernando