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India - Fresh investigation brought against human rights defender Ms Teesta Setalvad

Wednesday 11 March 2015, by siawi3

Source: Front Line

10 March 2015

Statement by Front Line Defenders

On 6 March 2015, the Ministry of Human Resource Development allegedly ordered an investigation into accusations against human rights defender Ms Teesta Setalvad. The allegations are reportedly of misuse of funds provided by the government to the non-governmental organisation Sabrang Trust, and are part of the ongoing judicial harassment against the human rights defender due to her work combating impunity for communal violence.

Teesta Setalvad is a journalist and founder of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) and Sabrang Trust. 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. The organisation has been instrumental in obtaining the 117 convictions against perpetrators of the violence. Sabrang Trust was established after the 1992-1993 communal violence in Mumbai, and works to promote communal harmony.

According to sources, the Ministry of Human Resource Development established a committee of inquiry, consisting of a Supreme Court lawyer, the vice-chancellor of the Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar, and a ministry official. The committee was reportedly created on the basis of a complaint received by the Ministry on 2 June 2014 regarding funding received by Sabrang Trust under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan government programme for universal elementary education.

The accusations come in the context of broader judicial harassment against Teesta Setalvad and her spouse, Mr Javed Anand. Charges against the human rights defender for alleged embezzlement of funds intended for the construction of a memorial to the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots have been under investigation since January 2014. On 19 February 2015, the Indian Supreme Court ordered that Teesta Setalvad and her spouse should remain at liberty during the investigation of the accusations made against them. The First Information Report for this case was filed against the human rights defender as she prepared the appeal against the decision in December 2013 to reject a case brought by a victim of communal violence. The victim is attempting to bring charges against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, formerly the Gujarat Chief Minister, and 59 others (including senior officials of the Crime Branch Ahmedabad and Ahmedabad police) for their alleged involvement in the 2002 riots.

Front Line Defenders expresses its concern at the ongoing judicial harassment against Teesta Setalvad, which is believed to be directly linked to her peaceful and legitimate work combating impunity for communal violence.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in India to:

1.Immediately and unconditionally cease the investigation into Teesta Setalvad and her spouse, as Front Line believes that it is being performed solely as a result of her legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights;

2.Immediately and unconditionally drop the embezzlement charges against Teesta Setalvad and her spouse, as Front Line believes that they are being performed solely as a result of her legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights;

3.Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in India, including those working to combat impunity for communal violence, are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.