The country Human Rights reports for 2018 were released last week as part of an annual exercise in which the U.S. State Department submits its assessment of such rights as per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements to the U.S. Congress.
The 2018 India report covers a range of issues including press and media freedoms, forced disappearances, custodial deaths and the NGO clampdown — which became an issue between the U.S. and India, after the NDA government cancelled licenses of some 15,000 NGOs under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act.
In 2016, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had taken up the issue of the Christian charity, Compassion International, with Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj.
“The government imposed restrictions on foreign funding of some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including those with views the government stated were not in the ‘national interest’, thereby curtailing the work of these NGO,” the report said.
In terms of custodial deaths, the Report cites official (Indian) figures of 1,674 cases of such death between August 2017 and February 2018, with 1,530 occurring in judicial custody and 144 in police custody.
The report, in a separate section, Role of the Police and Security Apparatus , says, “Police continue to be underpaid, overworked, and subject to political pressure, in some cases contributing to corruption.”
Regarding data from the Home Ministry in response to an RTI request on the 2016 NGO Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative report regarding human rights violations committed under the AFSPA (the report said just under half of the cases reported were from Jammu and Kashmir in the 2012-2016 period), the State Department report says, “The data supplied by the Ministry of Home Affairs under the Right to Information Act did not indicate, however, whether complaints were deemed to have merit.”
The report also cites figures from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on alleged violation of human rights by security forces in Kashmir. It says 130-145 civilian deaths by security forces in Jammu & Kashmir occurred between June 2016 and April 2018.
The report however also adds that, “Non-governmental forces, including organized insurgents and terrorists, committed numerous killings and bombings in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the northeastern States, and Maoist-affected areas.”
“Maoists in Jharkhand and Bihar continued to attack security forces and key infrastructure facilities such as roads, railways, and communication towers,” it said.
Taking note of undertrials, the report, based on National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data, says just over 2,93,000 individuals were awaiting trial at the end of 2016. It also cites a 2017 Amnesty International report saying that Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis comprised a disproportionate number (53%) of pre-trial detainees,
Regarding press freedom and the safety of journalists, the report says , “There were numerous instances of journalists and members of media being threatened or killed in response to their reporting. Police rarely identified suspects involved in the killing of journalists.” It cites a 2017 Press Council of India report saying at least 80 journalists were killed since 1990 but only one conviction had occurred thus far.
In terms of editorial freedoms, the report says, “The Editors Guild of India claimed the government limited press freedom by exerting political pressure and blocking television transmissions.” It cited the firing of The Tribune’sEditor-in-Chief Harish Khare after reported government pressure on the newspaper following its report on privacy and security flaws in the Aadhaar program.
The report quotes the 2018 World Press Freedom Index as saying online trolling and attacks on journalists was a major issue. “With Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media and journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify and even threaten physical reprisals,” the report said.
The report draws particular attention to the trolling of women, saying, “Online and mobile harassment was especially prevalent…journalists were threatened with violence and, in the case of female journalists, rape.”
The government also made an increasing number of requests for data from internet companies as per the report. 22,024 requests were made in 2017, according to Facebook data, a 61.7% rise from 2016.
The Central Monitoring System (CMS) of the government, could, without informing the subject or a judge, monitor electronic communication in real time, the report says.