Freedom House report dubbing India as ‘partly free’ is misleading, incorrect: Centre

The Freedom House report which downgraded India’s status to “partly free” is misleading, incorrect and misplaced, the central government said in a statement on Friday. Titled ‘Democracy Under Siege’, the report was compiled by US-based democracy watchdog Freedom House.

In its bid to establish its point, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said many states in India are ruled by parties other than the one at the national level which shows India’s federal structure.

It went on to add that the parties are voted to power through an election process that is free and fair and conducted by an independent election body.

North East Delhi riots

Rebutting a claim in the report that suggested discriminatory policies against Muslims in the context of the North East Delhi riots, the Centre said it treats all its citizens with equality as enshrined under the Constitution.

“With specific reference to the North East Delhi riots in January 2019, the law enforcement machinery acted swiftly in an impartial and fair manner. Proportionate and appropriate actions were taken to control the situation. Necessary legal and preventive actions were taken by the law enforcement machinery on all complaints/calls received, as per law and procedures,” the Centre asserted.

Crackdown on dissent

Responding to allegations of crackdown on dissent in the Freedom House report, the I&B Ministry said the Indian Constitution provides for freedom of expression under Article 19. Discussion, debate and dissent are part of Indian democracy, the Centre added.

“The Government of India attaches highest importance to the safety and security of all residents of the country, including journalists. The Government of India has issued a special advisory to States and Union Territories on the safety of journalists requesting them to strictly enforce the law to ensure the safety and security of media persons,” the I&B Ministry went on to say.

Sedition law

Countering the charge in the report pertaining to the use of sedition law in various cases, the Centre said the responsibility of maintaining law and order, including investigation, registration and prosecution of crimes, protection of life and property rests primarily with states. Therefore, measures as deemed fit are taken by law enforcement authorities to preserve public order.

Covid-19 pandemic

Highlighting its achievements during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Centre said it took various measures to ensure that people are not made to face undue distress. The government counted providing food, healthcare, shelter to homeless persons and migrant workers among these measures.

Human rights

The Constitution of India has adequate safeguards with regards to human rights, the I&B Ministry’s statement said.
It added that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is headed by a retired Supreme Court judge and works as a mechanism to inquire, investigate and make recommendations in cases where it finds that there is a violation of human rights in the country.

Internet shutdowns

Responding to one of the most serious charges in the Freedom House report, the government said, “Temporary suspension of the telecom services, including internet, are governed under the provisions of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017, which are issued under the provisions of the Indian Telegraph Act, 185.”

“These temporary suspensions need authorization of the Secretary to the Government of India, in the Ministry of Home Affairs, in the case of the Central Government; or of the Secretary, in-charge of the Home Department, in the case of a State Government,” the statement added.

It went on to say, “Moreover, any such orders are reviewed by the Review Committee, constituted in the Central or State Government, under the chair of Cabinet Secretary of Government of India or Chief Secretary of the concerned state.”

Amnesty International

Referring to the FCRA amendment that led to freezing of Amnesty International’s assets, the Centre said the NGO had received permission under the FCRA Act only once and that too 20 years ago (19.12.2000).

“Since then Amnesty International, despite its repeated applications, has been denied FCRA approval by successive governments since as per law it is not eligible to get such an approval. However, in order to circumvent the FCRA regulations, Amnesty U.K. remitted large amounts of money to four entities registered in India, by misclassifying the remittance as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI),” the government said.

It goes on to add, “A significant amount of foreign money was also remitted to Amnesty India without MHA’s approval under FCRA. This malafide rerouting of money was in contravention of extant legal provisions. Owing to these illegal practices of Amnesty, the previous government had also rejected the repeated applications of Amnesty to receive funds from overseas. This had led Amnesty to suspend its operations once during that period as well.”

Source – India Today