The European Parliament’s global human rights subcommittee expressed “serious concerns” Saturday for violations in India.

Maria Arena, chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI), in a written letter said it was “closely following” the protection of human rights defenders in India and underlined recent arrests of activists Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha by the National Investigative Agency.

“It is particularly alarming to note that human rights defenders cannot conduct advocacy activities, notably in favor of India’s poorest and most marginalized communities, without becoming subject to intimidation and harassment, but equally worrying is the fact that terrorism charges, including under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), are used to silence them,” she said.

The UAPA law authorizes the government to declare individuals or groups terrorist or terrorist organizations.

Arena said the action “clearly represents a violation of international human rights standards,” as pointed out by UN Special Procedures.

“To date, the European Parliament has noticed that various forms of legitimate peaceful protests against laws, policies and governmental actions, including the Citizenship Amendment Act, have been portrayed as terrorist activities under this legislation, resulting in a number of arrests under this umbrella,” said Arena.

Citing the names of various human rights activists who were arrested by police, Arena stressed there were also “increased fears” that legislation could give wide powers to government agencies.

“Indeed, the vague definition of ‘unlawful activities’ and ‘membership of terrorist organisations’ could allow for wide discretion by the government in applying the law,” Arena said.

She warned that such developments would “substantially weaken” judicial oversight and the protection of civil liberties in the country.

“Consequently, we strongly believe that measures should be urgently taken to stop impeding and criminalising the work of human rights defenders by means of overly broad national security legislation and to respect their freedoms of association and expression,” she said.

Arena went on to say that India “should do much more” to ensure a safe and conducive environment for civil society, adding it should also consider enacting a law on protecting and promoting human rights defenders.

Amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, the UN has repeatedly called for the immediate release of prisoners of conscience as part of overall efforts to contain the outbreak, she recalled.

“We trust that it is our common duty and responsibility to protect human rights without discrimination and thus, encourage India to join in and implement fully the guidelines adopted by its Supreme Court aiming at reducing detainee population at this difficult time,” Arena said.

She stressed that it was essential to engage all strengths and means to battle the pandemic to avoid it becoming a risk to human rights.

DROI values the principles of partnership and open dialogue with India, Arena said, and added her institution looked forward to further progress on the protection of human rights in the country in a spirit of cooperation and constructive engagement.

After originating in China last December, COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has spread to at least 188 countries and regions across the world. The US, Brazil, Russia, and several European countries are currently the hardest hit in the world.

The pandemic has killed over 367,300 people, with total infections exceeding 6 million, while more than 2.5 million have recovered from the virus, according to figures compiled by US-based Johns Hopkins University.

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