Activists bristle as India cracks down on foreign funding of NGOs


By , Monday, May 20, 7:14 AM E-mail the writer, WP

NEW DELHI — Amid an intensifying crackdown on nongovernmental groups that receive foreign funding, Indian activists are accusing the government of stifling their right to dissent in the world’s largest democracy.India has tightened the rules on nongovernmental organizations over the past two years, following protests that delayed several important industrial projects. About a dozen NGOs that the government said engaged in activities that harm the public interest have seen their permission to receive foreign donations revoked, as have nearly 4,000 small NGOs for what officials said was inadequate compliance with reporting requirements.
The government stepped up its campaign this month, suspending the permission that Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), a network of more than 700 NGOs across India, had to receive foreign funds. Groups in the network campaign for indigenous peoples’ rights over their mineral-rich land and against nuclear energy, human rights violations and religious fundamentalism; nearly 90 percent of the network’s funding comes from overseas.“The government’s action is aimed at curbing our democratic right to dissent and disagree,” Anil Chaudhary, who heads an NGO that trains activists and is part of the INSAF network, said Tuesday. “We dared to challenge the government’s new foreign donation rules in the court. We opposed nuclear energy, we campaigned against genetically modified food. We have spoiled the sleep of our prime minister.”In its letter to INSAF, the Home Ministry said the group’s bank accounts were frozen and foreign funding approval suspended because it was likely to “prejudicially affect the public interest.”

A government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said the government is not against criticism. But when an NGO uses foreign donations to criticize Indian policies, “things get complicated, and you never know what the plot is,” the official said, adding that NGOs should use foreign donations to do development work instead.

The United States is the top donor nation to Indian NGOs, followed by Britain and Germany, according to figures compiled by the Indian government, with Indian NGOs receiving funds from both the U.S. government and private U.S. institutions. In the year ending in March 2011, the most recent period for which data are available, about 22,000 NGOs received a total of more than $2 billion from abroad, of which $650 million came from the United States.

Government bars groups that oppose nuclear energy, human rights abuses from accepting overseas donations.

U.S. officials, including Peter Burleigh, the American ambassador at the time, quickly moved to assure Indian officials that the U.S. government supports India’s civil nuclear power program. And Victoria Nuland, then the State Department spokeswoman, said the United States does not provide support for nonprofit groups to protest nuclear power plants. “Our NGO support goes for development, and it goes for democracy programs,” Nuland said.
Although Singh was widely criticized for his fears, the government froze the accounts of several NGOs in southern India within weeks.“All our work has come to a stop,” said Henri Tiphagne, head of a human rights group called People’s Watch. “I had visited [the] Koodankulam protest site once. Is that a banned territory?”

But the government’s action appears to have had its desired effect. “NGOs are too scared to visit Koodankulam or associate with us now,” said anti-nuclear activist S. P. Udayakumar.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said many NGOs are afraid to speak up about the suspension of their foreign funding approval, which is “being used to intimidate organizations and activists.”

Analysts say the government’s way of dealing with dissent is a throwback to an earlier era. But Indian authorities have been particularly squeamish about criticism of late. As citizens have protested corruption and sexual assaults on women and demanded greater accountability from public officials, authorities have often reacted clumsily — including beating up peaceful protesters and cracking down on satirical cartoons, Facebook posts and Twitter accounts.

Donors look elsewhere

Officials say NGOs are free to use Indian money for their protests. But activists say Indian money is hard to find, with many Indians preferring to donate to charities.

A recent report by Bain & Co. said that about two-thirds of Indian donors surveyed said that NGOs have room to improve the impact they are making in the lives of beneficiaries. It said that a quarter of donors are holding back on increased donations until they perceive evidence that their donations are having an effect.

“They give blankets to the homeless, sponsor poor children or support cow shelters,” said Wilfred Dcosta, coordinator of INSAF. “They do not want to support causes where you question the state, demand environmental justice or fight for the land rights of tribal people pitted against mighty mining companies.”

INSAF, whose acronym means “justice” in Urdu, has seen its portion of foreign funding increase significantly during the past 15 years. Now it receives funds from many international groups, including the American Jewish World Service and Global Greengrants Fund in the United States, and groups in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

The top American donors to Indian NGOs include Colorado-based Compassion International, District-based Population Services International and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“It is not a question about money, it is a fight for our right to dissent,” said Chaudhary. “I don’t need dollars to block a road.”

Asked last week about the Indian government’s moves against foreign-funded NGOs, a U.S. State Department spokesman said the department was not aware of any U.S. government involvement in the cases. The spokesman said such civil society groups around the world “are among the essential building blocks of any healthy democracy.”

The situation in India is not unlike the problems that similar groups face in Russia, where a law passed last year requires foreign-funded NGOs that engage in loosely defined political activities to register as “foreign agents.”

 

US sanctions Iran over Internet, media censorship


(AFP) –  nOV 9, 2012

WASHINGTON — Washington unveiled sanctions Thursday against top Iranians and national bodies, including the communications minister and the culture ministry, hitting back for media and Internet censorship.

The move against Communications Minister Reza Taghipour came after he was blamed for ordering the jamming of international satellite TV broadcasts and restricting Internet access, a State Department official said.

The United States was determined to stop the “Iranian government from creating an ‘electronic curtain’ to cut Iranian citizens off from the rest of the world,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

Four individuals and five bodies were placed under sanctions by both the State Department and the US Treasury for “censorship or other activities that prohibit, limit or penalize freedom of expression or assembly by citizens of Iran.”

They were also accused of limiting “access to print or broadcast media, including by jamming international satellite broadcasts into Iran,” Nuland said in a statement, denouncing the “regime’s insidious actions.”

Internet users in Iran were temporarily unable to access their Gmail accounts from late September to early October.

Mohammad Reza Miri, a member of the telecommunications ministry committee tasked with filtering the Internet in Iran, was quoted by the Mehr news agency as saying that the Gmail block was an “involuntary” consequence of trying to reinforce censorship of Google’s YouTube video-sharing site.

“Unfortunately, we do not yet have enough technical knowhow to differentiate between these two services. We wanted to block YouTube and Gmail was also blocked, which was involuntary,” he said.

“We absolutely do not want YouTube to be accessible.”

Iran has censored YouTube since mid-2009, after opposition demonstrators protesting the re-election victory of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in polls they believed rigged started posting videos online of their gatherings.

Iran’s ministry of culture and Islamic guidance was also sanctioned for closing down newspapers and detaining journalists.

Other entities targeted included the Press Supervisory Board and the Center to Investigate Organized Crime, which helped “identify Internet users who published material insulting government officials,” the US Treasury said in a statement, adding some of the people were later arrested.

“Finding that balance between preventing technology that could constrain and permitting technology that would expand their access to information is kind of a difficult question,” a senior State Department official told journalists.

Also included in the designations were Ali Fazli, a deputy commander of the Basij militia blamed for launching attacks on foreign websites, including foreign media organizations, and Iran police chief Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam, who is in charge of tracking Internet activities in the country.

Iranian software companies AmnAfzar Gostar-e Sharif and PeykAsa, as well as their founder, Rasool Jalili, were also targeted for monitoring Web traffic, including moves to block access to Facebook, eBay and YouTube.

The Iranian government was engaged in a campaign to “curtail” freedoms and “prevent the free flow of information both into and out of Iran,” Nuland said in her statement.

“Countless activists, journalists, lawyers, students and artists have been detained, censured, tortured or forcibly prevented from exercising their human rights,” she added.

The new designations resulted from an August 2012 act that came into force on Thursday and mean Americans are banned from doing any business with the targeted Iranians, who are also barred from traveling to the United States.

Any of their assets in the United States will also be frozen.

Other newly rolled out sanctions focused on individuals designated for sponsoring terrorism, in particular the Kata’ib Hezbollah group responsible for violent attacks in Iraq.

A third tranche of the designations targeted the support network of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps — including the National Iranian Oil Company, which is already under sanctions, and two Tehran universities.

 

Sudan using protests ‘to silence dissenters’, same as India


Rights group report urges Sudan to end the violent crackdown on anti-government protesters and journalists.

Last Modified: 27 Jun 2012 10:09

 

Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s president, has said the protests against high prices is the work of “a few agitators” [AFP]

Security forces have arrested scores of protesters, opposition members, and journalists, beat people in detention, and used rubber bullets and live ammunition to break up protests that began on June 16, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Tuesday.

Sudan should end the crackdown on peaceful protesters, release people who have been detained, and allow journalists to report freely on the events, the report added.

“Sudan is using these protests as an excuse to use violence and intimidation to silence dissenters,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“Authorities should call off their security forces and vigilantes, end the violence immediately, and respect the right of the people to protest peacefully.”

“Arresting all suspected opponents to stifle dissent is abusive and illegal,” Bekele said.

“Authorities need to charge or release these detainees immediately, allow people to voice their opinions peacefully, and let the media work freely.”

The protests began on June 16 at Khartoum University in response to government austerity measures and price increases, and they had spread to dozens of other locations in Khartoum, and other towns across Sudan, with protesters calling for the end of the current government.

US condemnations

Meanwhile, the US have condemned the crackdown on Sudan protests,”Sudan’s economic crisis cannot be solved by arresting and mistreating protesters,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

“There have been reports of protestors being beaten, imprisoned and severely mistreated while in government custody.

We call for the immediate release of those detained for peaceful protest,” she added in a statement.

The National Security and Intelligence Services (NISS) on Tuesday deported Salma El Wardany, an Egyptian female correspondent of Bloomberg News in Khartoum, and briefly detained prominent Sudanese blogger Maha El Sanousi.

“They ordered me to leave,”  Salma El Wardany, an Egyptian, told AFP by telephone as she awaited a flight from the Khartoum airport.

Sudan has lost billions of dollars in oil receipts since South Sudan gained independence last July, taking with it about 75 per cent of Sudanese crude production. The north has been left struggling for revenue, plagued by inflation, and with a severe shortage of dollars to pay for imports.

The landlocked South depended on the north’s pipeline and port to export its crude, but Khartoum and Juba could not agree on how much South Sudan should pay to use the infrastructure.

Sudan’s already depleted oil revenues shrank by a further 20 per cent after its main Heglig oil field was damaged and shut down in fighting with invading South Sudanese troops in April, international economists have estimated.

Even before the easing of fuel subsidies, the cost of basic consumer goods had doubled over the past year.

Bashir, an army officer who seized power in 1989, called the protests small and not comparable to the “Arab Spring” uprisings against regional strongmen over the past year.

He blamed anti-government protests on the work of “a few agitators” in a speech late Sunday.

But a demonstrator told AFP the current unrest is unprecedented. “Right now, this is first time since 1989 we have these protests in most cities,” he said, asking not to be identified by name.

There have been calls on social networks for a mass nationwide protest on June 29.

 

Immediate Release-US’ reaffirmation of visa denial to Modi welcomed by IAMC


Narendra Modi in Press Conference

Narendra Modi in Press Conference (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tuesday April 26, 2012

The Indian American Muslim Council (http://www.iamc.com) an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India‘s pluralist and tolerant ethos today welcomed the US State Department‘s reiteration of its position on the issue of a US visa for Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Congressman Walsh had called on the US government to lift the ban on issuing a US visa to Mr. Modi. On April 25, 2012, the State Department’s spokesperson Victoria Nuland responded to questions from reporters on Congressman Walsh’s letter. “Our position on the visa issue has not changed at all,” Ms. Nuland stated categorically, reaffirming the government’s position that Mr. Modi continues to remain inadmissible under current US law. Section 212 (a)(2)(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, makes foreign government officials ineligible for a visa should the State Department deem them complicit in severe violations of religious freedom.
Mr. Modi is the prime accused in a case filed by human rights organization “Citizens for Justice and Peace” and Gujarat carnage survivor Mrs. Zakia Jafri, where he is accused of conspiracy to commit mass murder, to influence the course of public justice and to destroy public records. An amicus curiae appointed by India’s Supreme Court has found sufficient evidence to charge and prosecute him for the carnage in 2002 that resulted in the killing of over 2,000 people and the displacement of over 150,000.

“Even after the horrific pogrom in Gujarat 2002, there has been no reprieve for the minorities in Gujarat. The continued violations of religious freedom in the state, in the form of extra-judicial killings, pathetic living conditions of people displaced since 2002, as well as economic discrimination against minorities reflect the culture of impunity cultivated by Mr. Modi and his administration,” said Mr. Shaheen Khateeb, President of IAMC. “The State Department’s refusal to reconsider the ban on Modi’s visa should also be seen in light of the ongoing struggle to secure justice and reparation for the victims of the Gujarat carnage of 2002,” added Mr. Khateeb.

IAMC has called upon India’s Supreme Court to look into irregularities in the functioning of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Court and to ensure that the masterminds of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 are brought to justice.

Indian American Muslim Council is the largest advocacy organization of Indian Muslims in the United States with 10 chapters across the nation.

For more information please visit our new website at www.iamc.com.

RELATED LINKS:

No change in visa policy on Narendra Modi: US
US Department of State – Foreign Affairs Manual Volume 9

US lawmaker asks Clinton to reconsider decision on visa to Modi

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/us-you-will-have-to-give-him-a-visa/941328/

Gujarat 2002 – The Full Coverage

http://www.tehelka.com/story_main35.asp?filename=Ne031107gujrat_sec.asp

“We have no orders to save you” – Report by Human Rights Watch

http://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports/2002/india/

Concerned Citizens Tribunal – Gujarat 2002; An Inquiry into the Carnage in Gujarat

http://www.sabrang.com/tribunal/volI/index.html

 

Contact:
Zafar Haq
phone/fax:  1-800-839-7270
email: info@iamc.com

Address:
6321 W Dempster St. Suite 295
Morton Grove, IL 60053
phone/fax: 1-800-839-7270
email: info@iamc.com