India bans Islamic group PFI, accuses it of ‘terrorism’

NEW DELHI, Sept 28 (Reuters) – India declared the Popular Front of India (PFI) Islamic group and its affiliates unlawful on Wednesday, accusing them of involvement in “terrorism” and banning them for five years, after authorities detained more than 100 PFI members this month.

The PFI did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment but its now-banned student wing, the Campus Front of India (CFI), called the government action a political vendetta and propaganda.

“We are against the concept of a Hindu nation, we are against fascism, not India,” Imran P.J., national secretary of the CFI, told Reuters.

“We will overcome this challenge. We will revive our ideology after five years. We will also consider going to court against the ban.”

On Tuesday, the PFI denied accusations of violence and anti-national activities when its offices were raided and dozens of its members were detained in various states.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, in announcing the ban, said in a statement the PFI and its affiliates had “been found to be involved in serious offenses, including terrorism and its financing, targeted gruesome killings, disregarding the constitutional setup”.

Imran denied any involvement in terrorism.

Muslims account for 13% of India’s 1.4 billion people and many have complained of marginalization under the rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

Modi’s party denies accusations of discrimination against Muslims and points to data that all Indians irrespective of religion are benefiting from the government’s focus on economic development and social welfare.

The PFI has supported causes like protests against a 2019 citizenship law that many Muslims deem discriminatory, as well as protests in the southern state of Karnataka this year demanding the right for Muslim women students to wear the hijab in class.

The ban is likely to stir an outcry among opponents of the government, which retains broad public support and a comfortable majority in parliament eight years after Modi first became prime minister.

The Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), which works with the PFI on some issues but was not included in the ban, said the government had struck a blow against democracy and human rights.

“Freedom of speech, protests and organisations have been ruthlessly suppressed by the regime against the basic principles of the Indian constitution,” the SDPI said in a statement.

“The regime is misusing the investigation agencies and laws to silence the opposition and to scare the people from expressing the voice of dissent. An undeclared emergency is clearly visible in the country.”

Some SDPI office were raided and some of its members were detained this month.

The government said in a notification it had banned the PFI and affiliates CFI, Rehab India Foundation, All India Imams Council, National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation, National Women’s Front, Junior Front, Empower India Foundation and Rehab Foundation, Kerala.

The government said it found a “number of instances of international linkages of PFI with global terrorist groups”, adding that some of its members had joined Islamic State and participated in “terror activities” in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Imran said the government had provided no proof to back up the accusation that PFI were involved in terrorism or working alongside Islamic State.

India has been the victim of some major militant attacks over the past two decades, most linked to Islamists based in neighbouring Pakistan.

The PFI came together in late 2006 and was launched formally the next year with the merger of three organisations based in south India.

It calls itself a “social movement striving for total empowerment” on its website.