From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Freedom of speech
Mains level : Free speech related issues
The Freedom House report titled “Democracy under Siege” in which it has been claimed that India’s status as a free country has declined to “partly free”, is misleading, incorrect, and misplaced.
The US who claims to be the champion of Human Rights has turned another sermon to India through its Freedom House Report. This report presents an inherently flawed and biased analysis of Indian democracy.
Rebuttal to specific points
(1) Discriminatory policies against Minorities
- The GoI treats all its citizens with equality as enshrined under the Constitution of the country and all laws are applied without discrimination.
- Due process of law is followed in matters relating to law and order, irrespective of the identity of the alleged instigator.
- With specific reference to the North East Delhi riots in February 2020, 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.
(2) Use of Sedition Law
- “Public Order’ and ‘Police’ are State subjects under India’s federal structure of governance.
- The responsibility of maintaining law and order, including investigation, registration, and prosecution of crimes, protection of life and property, etc., rests primarily with the concerned State governments.
- Therefore, measures as deemed fit are taken by law enforcement authorities to preserve public order.
(3) Government response to COVID-19 through Lockdown
- Between March 16 to 23, most State governments/UT resorted to partial or full Lockdown in their respective State/ UT based on their assessment of the COVID-19 situation.
- Any mass movement of people would have spread the disease rapidly throughout the country.
- The government was fully conscious that during the period of an inevitable Lockdown, people should not face undue distress.
- India has, on a per capita basis, registered one of the lowest rates of active COVID-19 cases and COVID-19 related deaths globally.
(4) Government response on human rights organizations
- The Indian Constitution provides for adequate safeguards under various statutes, including the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 for ensuring the protection of human rights.
- This Act provides for the constitution of an NHRC and SHRC in the States for better protection of human rights and for matters connected to this subject.
(5) Intimidation of academics and journalists and crackdown on expressions of dissent by media
- The Indian Constitution provides for freedom of expression under Article 19. Discussion, debate, and dissent are a part of Indian democracy.
- The GoI attaches the highest importance to the safety and security of all residents of the country, including journalists.
- It has issued a special advisory to States and UTs on the safety of journalists requesting them to strictly enforce the law to ensure the safety and security of media persons.
(6) Internet shutdowns
- Temporary suspension of the telecom services, including the internet, is governed under the provisions of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017.
- Hence, the temporary suspension of telecom/internet services is resorted to with the over-arching objective of maintaining law and order under strict safeguards.
(7) FCRA amendment leading to freezing of Amnesty International’s assets has led to declining in ranking
- Amnesty International had received permission under the FCRA Act only once and that too 20 years ago.
- 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 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 FDI.
- 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.