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Greenpeace India says the government's "clumsy tactics to suppress free speech and dissenting voices are turning into a major national and international embarrassment." (Photo: Greenpeace India/Facebook)

'Assault on Free Speech in India' as Government Moves to Destroy Greenpeace

NGO says it 'has endured repeated attempts at suppression through different government authorities' over last 18 months

Deirdre Fulton

Marking an escalation of ongoing hostilities between the Indian government and Greenpeace India, the Tamil Nadu Registrar of Societies on Wednesday cancelled the environmental NGO's license to operate in the country—a move akin to kicking the group out altogether. 

"While several international leaders, including the United Nations Secretary General, have recently upheld the importance of civil society in healthy democracies, this notice is the latest assault on free speech in India," Greenpeace India said in a statement. "Over the last 18 months, Greenpeace India has endured repeated attempts at suppression through different government authorities, and prepares yet again to seek legal redress."

"This is an extension of the deep intolerance for differing viewpoints that sections of this government seem to harbor."
—Vinuta Gopal, Greenpeace India

According to the cancellation notice (pdf), Greenpeace India Society's registration was allegedly revoked for "fraudulently" conducting their business by falsifying balance sheets, and other violations of the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act of 1975.

Greenpeace India, which has campaigned against coal mines in forests, genetically modified crops, nuclear power, and toxic waste management in the country, immediately vowed to fight the cancellation in court.

Vinuta Gopal, Greenpeace India's interim executive director, rejected the charges and said that the Registrar "is clearly acting under directions from the Ministry of Home Affairs [MHA] in Delhi, which has been trying to shut Greenpeace India down for over a year now."

According to Business Standard, the Registrar's order "further added that the society has to pass a special resolution and dissolve itself and if [fails] to do so within one month from the date of the order, the registrar will appoint suitable liquidator" for the job.

"The Registrar has passed this order without granting Greenpeace a hearing, and without complying with the Madras High Court order to address each of our points and queries," she said. "This is a blatant attempt to circumvent the legal process and shows no respect for the law."

As Common Dreams reported in June, the Indian government had previously frozen the bank accounts Greenpeace India uses for receiving foreign funds, as well as certain domestic accounts. The funding crackdown at one point cast doubt on the organization's future in the country. However, the Delhi High Court then ordered the government to unfreeze two of the charity’s domestic bank accounts, a move the NGO described as "a lifeline." Other bank accounts used to receive and distribute foreign donations remain frozen.

"The MHA's clumsy tactics to suppress free speech and dissenting voices are turning into a major national and international embarrassment for this government," Gopal said on Thursday. "This is an extension of the deep intolerance for differing viewpoints that sections of this government seem to harbor."

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