India added to human rights watchlist as deadly force and excessive violence used against protesters

New Delhi, 26 February 2020

  • Escalating rights violations include deaths of protesters and imprisonment of activists
  • Repressive laws and restrictions on freedom of expression raise concern
  • The state of civic freedoms in India is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

India has been added to a  watchlist of countries which have seen a rapid decline in fundamental democratic freedoms in recent months. Deadly attacks on protesters, arbitrary arrest of activists and restrictions on freedom of expression have contributed to a narrowing of civic space in India.

The new watchlist is released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks the latest violations to civic freedoms, such as the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

In India, tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets since December in opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 which seeks to provide citizenship to only non-Muslim irregular migrants who fled persecution. The controversial new law has been labelled discriminatory and unconstitutional by numerous human rights organisations.

The protesters have been met with excessive force and at least 27 people have been killed so far, mainly due to bullet wounds from police firearms. Hundreds of people have been injured during the violence and hundreds detained, including activists and intellectuals.

“It is deeply alarming to see deadly attacks against protesters in India,” said Josef Benedict, the Monitor’s Civic Space Researcher for Asia-Pacific. “Despite calls by human rights groups for an independent and credible investigation into police violations, no one has been held to account.”

The CIVICUS Monitor is also concerned about restrictions to freedom of expression in India, and the use of repressive laws to stifle dissent.

For example, the Indian authorities shut down the internet in several districts, claiming this was necessary to maintain law and order. To prevent protests, police have used a colonial era law, Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, to prohibit gatherings of four or more people. Authorities have also put limitations on public transport.

In the coming weeks and months, the CIVICUS Monitor will closely track developments in India. It will put pressure on the government to deal with these human and civic rights violations.

Last year the Monitor DOWNGRADED India’s civic space rating to REPRESSED, this is the second worst rating the global index can give a country, joining the company of Pakistan, Iraq, Turkey to name a few. 38 countries in the world have this rating ( see all). This rating reflects increased restrictions on political and democratic freedoms following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election in May 2019.

For more details, or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher for Asia-Pacific, CIVICUS