NEW DELHI: British Foreign Minister James Cleverly raised the issue of tax searches at the BBC’s offices in India during a meeting with his counterpart in New Delhi on Wednesday, the minister told.
In response, Cleverly was “firmly told that all entities operating in India must comply fully with relevant laws and regulations”, an Indian government source said.
Last month, India’s tax authorities spent three days searching the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai, where they cloned data from the digital devices of some senior employees.
Cleverly did not share details about the conversation with India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar ahead of a G20 foreign ministers’ meeting on Thursday.
“The conversations I had with him are best to keep with him. I did raise it,” he told in an interview.
“One of the advantages of having such a strong and professional relationship with Dr Jaishankar is I am able to bring up, and indeed he brings up with me, some of these sensitive issues. I did raise it with him.” However, he said that the vast bulk of the conversation was about positive bilateral work.
Indian authorities are increasingly targeting foreign journalists and online critics for their criticism of government policies and practices, including by prosecuting them under counterterrorism and sedition laws. Recent, tax crackdown on the BBC, weeks after it aired a documentary critical of PM Modi has made news around the world. But foreign correspondents based in the country say this is not the first act of hostility by the Modi government. Since 2019, they allege they have been facing visa uncertainty, denial of travel permits, and even deportation threats, prompting them to conduct internal surveys to capture the extent of the harassment. According to a survey conducted by Journalists, who are members of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, the government wanted to suppress coverage of the persecution of religious minorities in India and regions such as Kashmir and Assam. Many left anonymous comments in the surveys stating that they had been “summoned” by officials and ministers and shown “files” and “spreadsheets” detailing their “negative coverage”. A journalist working for a European news organization recounted an instance of the Indian embassy in their home country emailing the publication, asking it “not to cover Muslim persecution”. In August 2019, foreign journalists were told by External Affairs Ministry to seek prior permission to travel anywhere in Jammu and Kashmir, including Srinagar. Until then, only “parts of Jammu and Kashmir” were included in the government’s list of restricted and protected areas for which foreign journalists require travel permits from the home ministry. Even the partial restriction on travel to J&K had gone largely unenforced, barring a brief period in 1990, according to journalists who have been in the country for decades. The noose, however, had started tightening since 2016. In May 2016, External Affairs Ministry emailed foreign correspondents “reiterating” that travel permits were required for visiting Nagaland, Sikkim, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and parts of Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Jammu and Kashmir. Two years later, it sent another reminder on similar lines. But in August 2019, it extended the restrictions to the whole of Jammu and Kashmir, which has resulted in a near-total ban on foreign reporting from the former state that is now directly governed by New Delhi. No foreign correspondent has since independently gone on a reporting trip to the Kashmir valley. Around the same time, Assam was updating its National Register of Citizens – a highly contentious exercise that critics said targeted religious and linguistic minorities. Although Assam was not officially on the list of places that foreign correspondents required a permit to visit, a foreign journalist was allegedly put back on a plane by state authorities in September 2019. The January 2020 survey attempted to capture the extent of this clampdown. Of the 30 foreign journalists who had applied for travel permits in 2019 – most to report from Kashmir and Assam – 21 never heard back. According to a survey conducted in 2021, journalists expressed frustration about not getting reporting permits to report from
protected areas like Kashmir and the North East in time. That year, 96% of those who applied did not get the permit. The results of both the 2020 and 2021 surveys were separately shared with the external affairs ministry soon after their conclusion, members of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club said. A third survey was conducted in February 2022, The level and extent of intimidation, however, seems to have risen. A journalist claimed to have been “followed, interrogated”, and their “interviewee threatened” while covering a story on the persecution of Christians in Karnataka. Another journalist alleged “physical threats from the Indian authorities” even as a third correspondent said they had been “threatened with deportation twice”. Journalists lamented the government’s lack of willingness to engage with them in good faith and being constantly accused of “having an agenda”. Indian government’s belligerent attitude to foreign journalists had made many international newsrooms get into a huddle.
For a fifth consecutive year, India is the world’s largest offender, out of all democracies, in enforcing deliberate internet shutdowns. The report by Access Now and the KeepItOn coalition reveals that India implemented at least 84 shutdowns in 2022. At least, 187 internet shutdowns across 35 countries were recorded in 2022. Senior international counsel and Asia Pacific policy director at Access Now, Raman Jit Singh Chima said, “That’s 84 attacks on fundamental rights across the world’s biggest democracy.” The report said that in 2022, the Internet was shut down 49 times in IIOJK. This included a string of 16 back-to-back orders for three-day-long shutdowns in January & February 2022 in the territory. It said, authorities in Rajasthan imposed shutdowns on 12 different occasions followed by West Bengal, which ordered shutdowns seven times. As per the report, titled ‘Weapons of control, shields of impunity: Internet shutdowns in 2022’, since 2016, India has accounted for approximately 58 percent of all documented shutdowns globally.
Indian authorities disrupted internet access at least 49 times in IIOJK, including 16 back-to-back orders for three-day-long curfew-style shutdowns in January and February. There are reports of the Indian government’s throttling or suspension of internet services in regions struck by protests. Internet shutdowns were used during the Agneepath protests, the farmer’s protest, etc. The report states that authorities used shutdowns to try to hide serious rights violations and sever communications between individuals and communities, which also impacted human rights monitoring, including shutdown tracking and provision of humanitarian aid. Since PM Modi scrapped Article 370 and 35-A, the region has witnessed an unprecedented crackdown on residents and the imposition of laws and policies which critics say are aimed at marginalizing and oppressing the country’s only Muslim-majority region. Srinivas Kodali, digital rights activist and researcher with the Free Software Movement of India, “It is a form of repression. The government is telling people that unless you toe the line, you will not be allowed to be part of a normal world”.
It’s no surprise to hear about the continued human rights violations in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK). Across the region the people are subjected to the kind of suffering that is largely invisible to the rest of the world, with militants and security forces regularly attacking civilians, terrorizing them and even abducting or killing individuals.Recently, such an incident has taken place in regarded to Abdul Rasheed Dar (ARD), a youth from Kupwara in IIOJK, who was taken into custody by security forces on the 15th December last year. This was followed by numerous protests from ARD’s family which went on for over two months, but the security forces failed to give any information regarding his whereabouts or well-being.
Today, after more than 75 days of forced disappearance, the family was informed that their relative’s dead body had been discovered in a forest area in Kupwara. It is suspected that he had been killed while in custody.
The death of ARD has sent shockwaves across IIOJK as locals have taken to the streets in protest. They are furious over the custodial killing of ARD and have demanded justice for the deceased. Posters have been reportedly put up in Kupwara, declaring ARD as a martyr and highlighting his death date.
Forced disappearance and custodial killing of individuals by the security forces in IIOJK is a violation of human rights and should be condemned and highlighted in the international media. Such occurrences can only stoke resentment in the region, which considering the tension between India and Pakistan, makes the whole issue even more precarious. Human rights of individuals must be fiercely protected and steps must be taken to ensure that such incidents are not repeated.