Lawmakers urge Secretary of State Pompeo to intervene on behalf of Indian rights advocates

Indira Jaising, Senior Advocate of Supreme Court comes out of her residence after CBI conducted raids in her residence and office in connection with a foreign funding case, at Nizamuddin East on July 11, 2019 in New Delhi, India. The CBI searched the residence of senior Supreme Court lawyer Indira Jaising and her husband Anand Grover here and in Mumbai at five locations for alleged violation of FCRA norms and claimed to have recovered incriminating documents. (Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, D.C.— A group of 15 U.S. lawmakers, all Democrats, comprising a mix of progressives and moderates, have appealed to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to intervene in the case of two Indian human and civil rights lawyers— co-founders of The Lawyers Collective — allegedly being harassed and targeted by the government of India that has launched a criminal investigation against them for their activism.

The group led by Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, an unabashed progressive, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, who is the co-chair of The Progressive Caucus in House of Representatives that consist of more than 120 members, in a missive to Pompeo urged to intervene in the “alarming case” of Anand Grover and Indira Jaising -- two prominent human and civil rights lawyers — who are being targeted alleging criminal conduct purely for their human rights activism.

In their letter, the lawmakers, including Reps. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the founder and former co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans and Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the powerful Oversight Committee, urged “the United States to prioritize the protection of human rights, a vibrant civil society in India and the rights of the Indian people to free expression, association and due process, values that we know are fundamental to both India and the United States.”

“Because we value the U.S.-India strategic partnership,” they wrote Pompeo,” we are deeply troubled by recent actions by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government that threaten civil society and the critical advocacy of human rights lawyers and other non-governmental organizations.”

They argued that “the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms must be a cornerstone of US foreign policy, including with our closest partners,” and urged the country’s top diplomat “to make a strong public statement addressing the Government of India's dangerous moves to constrain freedom of expression, association, and speech.”

The lawmakers implored Pompeo to raise “Mr. Grover and Ms. Jaising's case with the Government of India prior to the expiration of the stay on August 19.”

Providing a background to the case that has raised the ire of the government against Grover and Jaising, the members of Congress said that on June 13, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had “filed a criminal case against the Lawyers Collective based on unsubstantiated allegations that the Collective misused foreign funds.”

“Then, on July 11, the CBI raided the homes and offices of Grover and Jaising, prominent human rights lawyers and co-founders of the Lawyers Collective,” the lawmakers said.

They explained that The Lawyers Collective is “an internationally-respected human rights organization providing legal services and advocacy on behalf of human rights activists, women, the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups,” and added, “Of special concern, both Mr. Grover and Ms. Jaising have held important positions at the United Nations (UN).”

In this regard, the lawmakers noted that “the allegations target activities related to those UN positions, raising the specter of official interference with the critical independent role played by the UN and its experts.”

They said, “The Bombay High Court on July 25 issued a stay prohibiting ‘coercive actions’ such as the arrest of Mr. Grover and Ms. Jaising, until August 19, 2019,” and informed Pompeo that “this leaves a limited window of time for your, as our nation’s top diplomat, to engage with the Government of India to advocate for scrupulous protection of the rights of these human rights defenders who are guardians of a healthy Indian civil society.”

The lawmakers argued in their letter that “we are concerned by the appearance that the Modi government is weaponizing India’s Foreign Contribution Regulation Act(FCRA) to silence views it opposes,” and recalled that in 2016, three UN special rapporteurs had called for the Indian government to repeal the FCRA, stating that it “fails to comply with human rights standards and norms.”

“The Lawyers Collective is not the only NGO to be targeted by the Modi government—others include Amnesty International, whose offices were raided in October 2018; Greenpeace; and the Ford Foundation; as well as many local groups that are more vulnerable because they lack the same international profile,” they noted.

The lawmakers also pointed out that “reports have documented thousands of cases in which human rights and social justice organizations and activists have been subjected to measures including revocation of registration, denial of access to bank accounts, and criminal prosecution by the Modi government.”

At the outset, they acknowledged that “India’s democracy is an historic one with a vibrant press and strong tradition of democratic institutions and civil society,” but bemoaned that “however, we are increasingly concerned by the shrinking space in India for its active civil society.”

Besides Raskin, Jayapal, Pallone and Cummings, among the signatories to the letter included Reps. James McGovern of Massachusetts, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Delegate of the District of Columbia, Adrian Espaillat of New York, Bobby Rush and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, Alan Lowenthal of California, Lloyd Doggett of Texas, Henry ‘Hank’ Johnson of Georgia, Deb Haalan of New Mexico, Rosa L. de Lauro of Connecticut and Lisa Blunt Rochester of Pennsylvania.

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