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India: Continued harassment of human rights defender Teesta Setalvad

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On 26 June 2015, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) decided to refer human rights defenders Ms Teesta Setalvad and her husband, Mr Javed Anand, to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for investigation.

This latest action increases the pressure on the human rights defender as she attempts to continue her legitimate human rights work. The series of investigations against Setalvad, which appear to be politically motivated, began in January 2014, and have resulted in continuous harassment and systematic probes into the accounts of Setalvad's NGO and groundless accusations of non-cooperation.

Teesta Setalvad is a journalist and founder of Sabrang Trust and Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP). Sabrang Trust was established after the 1992-1993 communal violence in Mumbai, and works to promote conflict resolution and support peace building. CJP was established in April 2002, in the immediate aftermath of the communal violence of the Gujarat riots, to provide legal aid to the survivors of the riots, and has been instrumental in obtaining the 117 convictions against perpetrators of the violence. Narendra Modi, who has been Prime Minister since 2014, was Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time of the riots and was criticised for his conduct at that time.

On 26 June 2015, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs decided that the investigation against Teesta Setalvad and her husband would be carried forward by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as a criminal case. The CBI is responsible for the investigation of serious crimes in India. The decision grants the state bureau the power to probe into foreign funds received by Setalvad's NGO without registration or prior permission as established under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act 2010. This decision was made by the Ministry of Home Affairs without any judicial approval and despite ongoing proceedings before the Supreme Court concerning allegations of forgery and criminal breach of trust against the human rights defender, the next hearing for which is scheduled for 7 July 2015.

Since the commencement of the investigations into Teesta Setalvad, her husband and her organisations in January 2014 the bank accounts of Setalvad’s Sabrang Communication and Publishing Private Limited (SCPPL) have been frozen, and the state investigators have directed the bank authorities not to allow further credit or withdrawal of foreign contributions from the accounts without its permission. Teesta Setalvad has been continuously accused of non-cooperation with the investigation, although she has repeatedly expressed her willingness to fully cooperate, and supported the inspection team during the detailed investigation into the records of both the CJP and Sabrang Trust, which took place between 6-8 April 2015.

The harassment comes in the context of broader judicial proceedings against Teesta Setalvad and her spouse, based on charges of alleged embezzlement of funds intended for the construction of a memorial to the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Front Line Defenders expresses its concern at the latest development in the investigation against Teesta Setalvad, as it believes the referral of the case to the CBI to be an attempt to intensify the harassment of the human rights defender, and to repress her legitimate work in the defence of human rights.

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