©Sameer Sehgal/Hindustan Times

Stop silencing dissent in India: EU leaders must tell Prime Minister Modi to protect human rights amid the COVID-19 crisis

EU leaders meeting in Portugal next weekend will have online talks with Indian Prime Minister Modi. India currently faces a wave of COVID-19 infections and shortages of vaccines and treatments such as oxygen. At the same time, critics of India’s pandemic response are being silenced – including on Twitter and Facebook. This is why human rights must be at the centre of their discussions.

This summit will be a crucial opportunity for EU leaders to urge India to protect the rights to life and health, and to raise the alarm about India’s crackdown on dissent.

Since Prime Minister Modi took office in 2014, India’s civil society has faced continued crackdown. Across India today, human rights defenders, activists and journalists face harassment, arrest and detention. The Indian government routinely uses repressive laws to silence dissenting views and NGOs are banned from receiving international funding. The police and army target students and others who protest peacefully.

In September last year, Amnesty International India was forced to halt its operations after its accounts were frozen by the authorities. Amnesty International India appears to have been targeted because of its human rights work. Its staff in India have lost their jobs, and the organization was not allowed to pay them further salaries or severance pay.

The unfolding health crisis means that organizations which hold the government to account are more important than ever. The EU-India summit is also a crucial opportunity for the EU to demonstrate global solidarity towards India and all other low and middle-income countries, to support the urgently needed scaling up and supply of vaccines and medical supplies.

The Indian government must immediately stop silencing dissent and:

  • Ensure human rights organizations in India can carry out their work freely and without fear of reprisal, including unfreezing the bank accounts of Amnesty International India
  • End targeted attacks on human rights defenders, activists, lawyers, journalists, and peaceful protesters
  • Amend or repeal repressive laws used to crack down on civil society
  • Stop ordering social media companies to censor criticism of the pandemic response

The EU heads of state and government must stand up for the right to life and health in India:

  • Ensure that India and all other low- and middle-income countries have sufficient medical oxygen and other medical products.
  • Drop opposition to the temporary TRIPS waiver. A proposal – including by India – at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to lift the enforcement of patents and other intellectual property protections