India - March 2023
Rahul Gandhi disqualified from parliament after defamation conviction
India’s Senior Congress leader, Rahul Gandhi, was disqualified as a member of the lower house parliament on 24 March 2023, a day after his conviction and two-year jail sentence by a local court in Surat, Gujarat. Gandhi was found guilty of defaming the Modi community in a 2019 case filed by a politician of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Human rights advocates and opposition figures have condemned the move and expressed concern that the law is being misused for political purposes to restrict free speech. Political ‘rival’ parties have also expressed support for Gandhi, including Aam Aadmi Party chief and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, with Mamata noting that “today, we have witnessed a new low for our constitutional democracy”. The government issued an official statement on 24 March stating that the disqualification is in line with parliamentary law, which requires those criminally convicted and sentenced to two or more years in prison not being permitted to serve as a member on the law-making body. The Surat Sessions court subsequently granted Gandhi bail and suspended the sentence for 30 days to allow him to appeal. If the verdict is upheld, Gandhi will not be able to contest elections for eight years.
Arrest of Kashmiri human rights activists
Prominent Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez was arrested on 13 March by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and charged with financing terrorism for his work with the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS). The arrest was made under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. A NIA spokesperson stated that JKCSS had “been in the propagation of a secessionist agenda in the [Kashmir] Valley under the garb of protecting human rights,” through, for instance, channelling charitable funds to terror activities. The arrest marks the second case for Parvez, who has been detained since November 2021 following accusations of terrorism. Before his arrest, Parvez’s close associate and journalist, Irfan Mehraj was also charged on 20 March. Human rights groups and UN experts have roundly condemned the crackdown on Kashmiri activists and called for their release. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor stated that the act “allows the designation of any individual as a ʽterroristʼ, bypassing the requirement to establish membership or association with banned groups.” She added that “the act is applied as a means of coercion against civil society, the media, and human rights defenders in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir.”