“India is a convenient target for social justice activists around the world because … it’s easy to attack India. Being a democracy, its government sees peaceful dissent, debate and demonstrations as the very stuff of daily life, and thus no existential threat. The study from PEN and University of Toronto, entitled “Imposing Silence: The Use of India’s Laws to Suppress Free Speech,” would be unlikely to draw any retaliation.” – Lawrence Solomon
The largest dictatorship in the world, China with its 1.4 billion people, is today engaged in the most extensive crackdown on civil liberties since the Tiananmen massacre: NGOs have been shut down, thousands of citizens have been picked up by the police, the fates of many are unknown, none are expected to get a fair trial for “crimes” that include publishing books and studies, none are even expected to get a fair hearing for their plight in the state-controlled press.
At the same time, the largest democracy in the world, India with its 1.3 billion people, today enjoys a vibrant free press, a highly respected judiciary and a government newly elected on a promise to grow the economy through free market principles. Yet in a major study released this week by PEN International, PEN Canada and the University of Toronto Faculty of Law’s International Human Rights Program, the Indian government is condemned for stifling freedom of expression.
What would motivate PEN and U of T to attack the democracy and not the dictatorship? In part, perhaps, a distaste for India’s polarizing new prime minister, Narendra Modi, who won a landslide victory in national elections last year. In advance of Modi’s trip to Canada last month, Renu Mandhane, the Executive Director of U of T’s International Human Rights Program, and Tasleem Thawar, the Executive Director of PEN Canada, wrote Prime Minister Stephen Harper a letter on University of Toronto letterhead captioned “India’s dismal record on freedom of expression poses risk to Canada.”
Their letter, which announced they were releasing a report to mark Modi’s first year in office, urged Harper to “put freedom of expression on the agenda for this week’s talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.” Nowhere did Mandhane and Thawar make even a feeble case of any risk to Canada. Rather, the injustices they pointed to — for example, an Indian Supreme Court decision that upheld parts of a law making internet service providers responsible for libelous material they might carry — hardly warranted a dressing down of Modi by Harper. Such controversies, normal in a democracy, don’t rise to the level of what most Canadians would consider human rights abuses. Moreover, it is certainly not Harper’s business to second-guess a reasoned decision by the Supreme Court of India, let alone the laws enacted by India’s democratically elected legislature, in the process embarrassing a visiting head of government.
This week PEN and U of T were again untoward, saying in a press release, “Earlier this year, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs used an extensive arsenal of vague and overbroad laws to muzzle the world’s largest environmental watchdog, Greenpeace International” through “seemingly innocuous provisions in the Indian Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.”
Those “seemingly innocuous provisions” prohibit foreign funding of political activities by charities. As PEN and University of Toronto Faculty of Law must know, Canada also prohibits charities from receiving foreign funds to engage in non-charitable activities, and severely limits any political activity by a charity. In fact, Canada long ago revoked Greenpeace Canada’s charitable status for engaging in political activity. Why the outrage over a democratic India appearing to follow in the footsteps of a democratic Canada? If Greenpeace India wants to remain a charity, it need only operate without foreign funding, some $2 million a year or 40 per cent of its budget, which it receives largely to influence decisions affecting climate change. That and an end to other non-charitable activities, which the Indian government alleges includes funding the political campaign of a former Greenpeace consultant.
India is a convenient target for social justice activists around the world because it is led by a reincarnation of Ronald Reagan, because it is on the wrong side of the climate change debate, and because it’s easy to attack India. Being a democracy, its government sees peaceful dissent, debate and demonstrations as the very stuff of daily life, and thus no existential threat. The study from PEN and U of T, entitled “Imposing Silence: The Use of India’s Laws to Suppress Free Speech,” would be unlikely to draw any retaliation.
Not so with China’s Communist Party, whose thin-skinned leadership fears for its very existence, and bullies those who question its human rights record. The threat of sanctions by China, particularly once China became an economic powerhouse, has chilled many organizations and countries, too, as seen in their reluctance to publicly welcome the Dalai Lama. The many thousands of Western NGOs that operate in China well understand this, and stay silent to remain in the Chinese Communist Party’s good books. This is the real face of “Imposing Silence.” – Probe International, 22 May 2015
- President Xi Jinping warns against foreign influence on religions in China
- Church-run residential schools committed ‘cultural genocide’ against Native Canadians – Nick Robins-Early
Filed under: canada, china, civil rights, economy, geopolitics, india, NGOs Tagged: | canada, china, civil liberties, foreign funds, geopolitics, greenpeace, hinduphobia, india, indian economy, narendra modi, NGOs, PEN