Indians protest the arrest of Arvind Kejriwal

Indians protest the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on March 22, 2024 in New Delhi.

(Photo: Sanchit Khanna Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Modi Government Crackdown on Dissent Hits 'Crisis Point' Before Indian Elections

"The growing crackdown clearly shows the authorities' blatant disregard for human rights and rule of law," said one Amnesty International campaigner.

As India's right-wing government cracks down on opposition ahead of next month's general elections, Amnesty International on Friday urged authorities to "stop weaponizing the criminal justice system to intimidate and harass" political candidates, activists, and others.

Protests broke out in the capital New Delhi and other Indian cities after police on Thursday arrested Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, an opposition leader from the Aam Aadmi Party, over corruption allegations AAP members say are politically motivated. Two other AAP leaders were previously arrested in connection with the same case, which involves the alleged favoring of certain alcohol vendors and illegal campaign financing.

Authorities also froze the bank accounts of another leading opposition party, the Indian National Congress, over a tax dispute that dates back to 2018. Party leader Sonia Gandhi accused Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party of perpetrating "a systematic effort to cripple the party financially."

Gandhi, Kejriwal and others have repeatedly accused of Modi's government of misusing federal agencies and resources to repress opposition figures as elections loom. The BJP denies the allegations.

"The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Indian government's crackdown on peaceful dissent and opposition has now reached a crisis point," Amnesty International India board chair Aakar Patel said in a statement.

"The authorities have repeatedly exploited and weaponized various financial and terrorism laws to systematically crack down on human rights defenders, activists, critics, nonprofit organizations, journalists, students, academics, and political opposition," Patel added. "The arrest of Arvind Kejriwal and the freezing of Indian National Congress' bank accounts a few weeks before India holds its general elections show the authorities' blatant failure to uphold the country's international human rights obligations."

Patel continued:

What we are witnessing is a brutal crackdown on human rights including through the misuse of central investigative and financial agencies, attacks on peaceful protests, arbitrary arrests, use and export of invasive spyware for unlawful surveillance, [and] systematic discrimination against religious minorities to feed into their majoritarian Hindutva politics and targeted suspension of opposition leaders from the Parliament who dare to hold the authorities to account.

"The growing crackdown clearly shows the authorities' blatant disregard for human rights and rule of law," Patel added. "Authorities must respect, protect, promote, and fulfill the human rights of everyone in the country including human rights defenders, activists, and opposition candidates before, during, and after the general elections which are due to begin in April 2024. Authorities must also ensure access to justice and effective remedies for victims of human rights violations."

On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives' bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a hearing on the situation in India.

The commission noted that in recent years, as Modi and the BJP have consolidated power, "concerns about human rights abuses in India have grown" over "a wide range of significant rights issues, including restrictions on religious and press freedoms, violence or threats of violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic and religious minorities, harassment of and restrictions on civil society and human rights organizations, corruption, and lack of accountability."

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