India is a multiparty, federal, parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature. The president, elected by an electoral college composed of the state assemblies and parliament, is the head of state, and the prime minister is the head of government. Under the constitution the 29 states and seven union territories have a high degree of autonomy and have primary responsibility for law and order. Voters elected President Ram Nath Kovind in 2017 to a five-year term, and Narendra Modi became prime minister following the victory of the National Democratic Alliance coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 general elections. Observers considered these elections, which included more than 551 million participants, free and fair despite isolated instances of violence.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included reports of arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; torture; rape in police custody; arbitrary arrest and detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; and reports of political prisoners in certain states. Instances of censorship, the use of libel laws to prosecute social media speech, and site blocking continued. The government imposed restrictions on foreign funding of some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including those with views the government stated were not in the “national interest,” thereby curtailing the work of these NGOs. Widespread corruption; lack of criminal investigations or accountability for cases related to rape, domestic violence, dowry-related deaths, honor killings remained major issues. Violence and discrimination based on religious affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, and caste or tribe, including indigenous persons, also occurred.
A lack of accountability for misconduct persisted at all levels of government, contributing to widespread impunity. Investigations and prosecutions of individual cases took place, but lax enforcement, a shortage of trained police officers, and an overburdened and under-resourced court system contributed to a small number of convictions.
Separatist insurgents and terrorists in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the northeast, and Maoist-affected areas committed serious abuses, including killings and torture of armed forces personnel, police, government officials, and of civilians, and recruited and used child soldiers.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports that the government and its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and insurgents.
According to Ministry of Home Affairs 2017-18 data, the Investigation Division of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) reported 59 nationwide “encounter deaths,” a term used to describe any encounter between the security or police forces and alleged criminals or insurgents that resulted in a death. This number was less than the prior reporting period. The South Asian Terrorism Portal, run by the nonprofit Institute for Conflict Management, reported the deaths of 152 civilians, 142 security force members, and 377 terrorists or insurgents throughout the country as of September 23.
Reports of custodial death cases, in which prisoners or detainees were killed or died in police custody, continued. On March 14, Minister of State for Home Affairs Hansraj Gangaram Ahir told the upper house of parliament the NHRC registered 1,674 cases of custodial deaths between April 2017 and February. Approximately 1,530 were deaths in judicial custody, while 144 deaths occurred under police custody. According to the Asian Center for Human Rights’ Torture Update India report released on June 26, more than five custodial deaths per day occurred on average between April 2017 and February 28. This was an increase from 2001 to 2010, when an average of about four custodial deaths were recorded.
On July 22, authorities suspended a senior police officer in Rajasthan after cattle trader Rakbar Khan died in police custody. Villagers reportedly assaulted Khan on suspicion of cow smuggling before authorities picked him up. Police took four hours to transport Khan to a local hospital 2.5 miles away, reportedly stopping for tea along the way, according to media sources. Doctors declared Khan dead upon arrival. State authorities arrested three individuals in connection with the assault and opened a judicial inquiry into the incident; however, authorities filed no criminal charges as of August 20.
Killings by government and nongovernment forces, including organized insurgents and terrorists, were reported in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, and Maoist-affected areas of the country (see section 1.g.). In the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Institute for Conflict Management recorded 213 fatalities from terrorist violence through June, compared with 317 for all of 2017.
On June 14, Rising Kashmir editor in chief Shujaat Bukhari and two police bodyguards were shot and killed by unidentified gunmen in Srinagar as they departed the office. A police investigation alleged militants targeted Bukhari in retaliation for his support of a government-backed peace effort.
On June 25, a judicial commission investigative report presented to the Madhya Pradesh state assembly justified the use of force in the killings of eight suspected members of the outlawed Students’ Islamic Movement of India after they escaped from a high-security prison in 2016. Police and prison authorities shot and killed the individuals after they allegedly killed a guard and escaped from Bhopal’s high-security prison.
As of August the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed charges against 20 Manipur Police personnel in response to a 2017 directive by the Supreme Court that the CBI should examine 87 of 1,528 alleged killings by police, army, and paramilitary forces between 1979 and 2012 in Manipur.
Under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a central government designation of a state or union territory as a “disturbed area” authorizes security forces in the state to use deadly force to “maintain law and order” and arrest any person “against whom reasonable suspicion exists” without informing the detainee of the grounds for arrest. The law also provides security forces immunity from civilian prosecution for acts committed in regions under the AFSPA, although in 2016 the Supreme Court concluded that every death caused by the armed forces in a disturbed area, whether of a common person or a terrorist, should be thoroughly investigated, adding that the law must be equally applied.
The AFSPA remained in effect in Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, and parts of Mizoram, and a version of the law was in effect in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. There was considerable public support for repeal of the AFSPA, particularly in areas that experienced a significant decrease in insurgent attacks. Human rights organizations also continued to call for the repeal of the law, citing numerous alleged human rights violations.
In July the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, and the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders urged authorities to complete investigations into the alleged encounter killings after CBI officials failed to meet a third deadline on July 2 set by the Supreme Court for inquiries into the cases. The experts stated the government has an obligation to ensure prompt, effective, and thorough investigations into all allegations of potentially unlawful killings.
The NGO Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative noted in its 2016 report that, of 186 complaints of human rights violations reported against the armed forces in states under the AFSPA between 2012 and 2016, 49.5 percent were from the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The data supplied by the Ministry of Home Affairs under the Right to Information Act did not indicate, however, whether complaints were deemed to have merit.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published the Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir, documenting alleged violations committed by security forces from June 2016 to April 2018. The report estimated civilian deaths by security forces ranged from 130 to 145, and between 16 to 20 killings by armed groups. The government of Jammu and Kashmir reported 9,042 injured protesters and 51 persons killed between July 2016 and February 2017. The report called for the repeal of the AFSPA in all states and territories, and an international probe into the human rights situation in the Indian state.
Nongovernmental forces, including organized insurgents and terrorists, committed numerous killings and bombings in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the northeastern states, and Maoist-affected areas (see section 1.g.). Maoists in Jharkhand and Bihar continued to attack security forces and key infrastructure facilities such as roads, railways, and communication towers.
There were allegations police failed to file required arrest reports for detained persons, resulting in hundreds of unresolved disappearances. Police and government officials denied these claims. The central government reported state government screening committees informed families about the status of detainees. There were reports, however, that prison guards sometimes required bribes from families to confirm the detention of their relatives.
Disappearances attributed to government forces, paramilitary forces, and insurgents occurred in areas of conflict during the year (see section 1.g.).
In February the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances informed the government about 16 newly reported cases of enforced disappearances that allegedly occurred between 1990 and 1999.
There were allegations of enforced disappearance by the Jammu and Kashmir police. Although authorities denied these charges and claimed no enforced disappearance cases had occurred since 2015, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons submitted inquiries for 639 cases of alleged disappearance in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In July the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission ordered its police wing to investigate these cases.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits torture, but there were reports that government officials, specifically police, employed such practices.
Police beatings of prisoners resulted in custodial deaths (see section 1.a.).
The law does not permit authorities to admit coerced confessions into evidence, but NGOs and citizens alleged authorities used torture to coerce confessions. In some instances, authorities submitted these confessions as evidence in capital cases. Authorities allegedly also used torture as a means to extort money or as summary punishment. According to human rights experts, the government continued to try individuals arrested and charged under the repealed Prevention of Terrorism Act and Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act. Under the repealed laws, authorities treated a confession made to a police officer as admissible evidence in court.
On July 13, a 45-year-old Dalit man, B. Murthy, was found hanging in a police station in Mandya, Karnataka. According to several Dalit organizations, police suspected Murthy of being a motorcycle thief and tortured him in police custody. Four police officers were suspended for dereliction of duty. The Criminal Investigation Department took over the investigation of this death but at year’s end had not produced its findings.
On August 2, activist Talib Hussain was allegedly tortured in the custody of Samba police in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and suffered a fractured skull, according to the NGO Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. Hussain was a witness in the gang rape and murder case of eight-year-old Asifa Bano (see section 6).
On March 9, the Odisha Human Rights Commission directed the state government to pay 300,000 rupees ($4,225) in compensation to the family of Abhay Singh, an antiques dealer, who died while in police custody in June 2017.
There were continued reports that police raped female and male detainees. The government authorized the NHRC to investigate rape cases involving police officers. By law the NHRC may also request information about cases involving the army and paramilitary forces, but it has no mandate to investigate those cases. NGOs claimed the NHRC underestimated the number of rapes committed in police custody. Some rape victims were unwilling to report crimes due to social stigma and the possibility of retribution, compounded by a perception of a lack of oversight and accountability, especially if the perpetrator was a police officer or other official. There were reports police officials refused to register rape cases.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were frequently life threatening, most notably due to inadequate sanitary conditions, lack of medical care, and extreme overcrowding.
Physical Conditions: Prisons were often severely overcrowded; and food, medical care, sanitation, and environmental conditions frequently were inadequate. Potable water was not universally available. Prisons and detention centers remained underfunded, understaffed, and lacked sufficient infrastructure. Prisoners were physically mistreated.
According to the National Crimes Records Bureau’s (NCRB) Prison Statistics India 2015 report, there were 1,401 prisons in the country with an authorized capacity of 366,781 persons. The actual incarcerated population was 419,623. Persons awaiting trial accounted for more than two-thirds of the prison population. The law requires detention of juveniles in rehabilitative facilities, although at times authorities detained them in adult prisons, especially in rural areas. Authorities often detained pretrial detainees along with convicted prisoners. In Uttar Pradesh occupancy at most prisons was two, and sometimes three, times the permitted capacity, according to an adviser appointed by the Supreme Court.
In 2017 Minister of State for Home Affairs Hansraj Gangaram Ahir informed the lower house of parliament there were 4,391 female jail staff for a population of 17,834 female prisoners as of 2015. On May 21, the NHRC issued notices to all states and union territories seeking statistical reports on the number of children who live with their mothers in jails. The commission issued notices based on a media report that 46 children, including 25 boys and 21 girls, were in jails with their mothers.
On February 5, the Karnataka state government filed an affidavit before the Karnataka High Court stating that 48 unnatural deaths occurred in the state’s prisons between January 2012 and October 2017; of these, compensation was paid in one case.
On June 20, prosecutors filed murder, conspiracy, criminal intimidation, and destruction of evidence charges against the jail warden and five other prison officials for the 2017 death of Manjula Shetye, a female convict in Mumbai. The officials were arrested in 2017 for allegedly assaulting Shetye following her complaint about inadequate food. A government doctor who signed the death certificate was suspended.
Administration: Authorities permitted visitors limited access to prisoners, although some family members claimed authorities denied access to relatives, particularly in conflict areas, including the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Independent Monitoring: The NHRC received and investigated prisoner complaints of human rights violations throughout the year, but civil society representatives believed few prisoners filed complaints due to fear of retribution from prison guards or officials. In March media reported the NHRC completed its investigative report that confirmed torture allegations by 21 inmates on trial in a jail in Bhopal. The report allegedly recommended appropriate legal action be taken against the jail authorities and the doctor involved in the torture and its cover up.
Authorities permitted prisoners to register complaints with state and national human rights commissions, but the authority of the commissions extended only to recommending that authorities redress grievances. Government officials reportedly often failed to comply with a Supreme Court order instructing the central government and local authorities to conduct regular checks on police stations to monitor custodial violence.
In many states the NHRC made unannounced visits to state prisons, but NHRC jurisdiction does not extend to military detention centers. An NHRC special rapporteur visited state prisons to verify that authorities provided medical care to all inmates. The rapporteur visited prisons on a regular basis throughout the year but did not release a report to the public or the press.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but both occurred during the year. Police also used special security laws to postpone judicial reviews of arrests. Pretrial detention was arbitrary and lengthy, sometimes exceeding the duration of the sentence given to those convicted.
According to human rights NGOs, some police used torture, mistreatment, and arbitrary detention to obtain forced or false confessions. In some cases police reportedly held suspects without registering their arrests and denied detainees sufficient food and water.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The 29 states and seven union territories have primary responsibility for maintaining law and order, with policy oversight from the central government. Police are under state jurisdiction. The Ministry of Home Affairs controls most paramilitary forces, the internal intelligence bureaus, and national law enforcement agencies, and provides training for senior officials from state police forces. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), cases of arbitrary arrest, torture, and forced confessions by security forces remained common. Police continued to be overworked, underpaid, and subject to political pressure, in some cases contributing to corruption. The HRW 2018 India country report found that lack of accountability for past abuses committed by security forces persisted even as there were new allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings, including in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, and Jammu and Kashmir.
The effectiveness of law enforcement and security forces varied widely throughout the country. According to the law, courts may not hear a case against a police officer unless the central or state government first authorizes prosecution. Nonetheless, NGOs reported that, in many instances, police refused to register victims’ complaints, termed “first information reports,” on crimes reported against officers, effectively preventing victims from pursuing justice. Additionally, NGOs reported that victims were sometimes reluctant to report crimes committed by police due to fear of retribution. There were cases of officers at all levels acting with impunity, but there were also cases of security officials being held accountable for illegal actions. Military courts investigated cases of abuse by the armed forces and paramilitary forces. Authorities tried cases against law enforcement officers in public courts but occasionally did not adhere to due process. Authorities sometimes transferred officers after convicting them of a crime.
The NHRC recommended the Criminal Investigations Department of the state police investigate all deaths that take place during police pursuits, arrests, or escape attempts. Many states did not follow this nonbinding recommendation and continued to conduct internal reviews at the discretion of senior officers.
While NHRC guidelines call for state governments to report all cases of deaths from police actions to the NHRC within 48 hours, state governments did not consistently adhere to those guidelines. The NHRC also called for state governments to provide monetary compensation to families of victims, but the state governments did not consistently adhere to this practice. Authorities did not require the armed forces to report custodial deaths to the NHRC.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
In cases other than those involving security risks, terrorism, insurgency, or cases arising in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, police may detain an individual without charge for up to 30 days, although an arrested person must be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. Lengthy arbitrary detention remained a significant problem due to overburdened and under-resourced court systems and a lack of legal safeguards.
Arraignment of detainees must occur within 24 hours unless authorities hold the suspect under a preventive detention law. The law allows police to summon individuals for questioning, but it does not grant police prearrest investigative detention authority. There were incidents in which authorities allegedly detained suspects beyond legal limits. By law authorities must allow family members access to detainees, but this was not always observed.
Other than in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the National Security Act allows police to detain persons considered security risks without charge or trial for as long as one year. The law allows family members and lawyers to visit national security detainees and requires authorities to inform a detainee of the grounds for detention within five days, or 10 to 15 days in exceptional circumstances. Nonetheless, rights activists noted provisions allowing detainees to meet family or lawyers were not followed in practice, especially in the states of Orissa, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra.
On September 14, Chandrashekhar Azad, leader of the pro-Dalit organization Bhim Army, was released from jail. Azad was arrested in June 2017, following clashes between Dalits and security forces that left one dead and many injured in the Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh. In November 2017 Azad was charged under the National Security Act after the Allahabad High Court granted him bail, and he was held for 10 months under the act before being released.
The Public Safety Act (PSA), which applies only in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, permits state authorities to detain persons without charge or judicial review for up to two years without visitation from family members. Authorities in the state of Jammu and Kashmir allowed detainees access to a lawyer during interrogation, but police allegedly and routinely employed arbitrary detention and denied detainees access to lawyers and medical attention.
Authorities must promptly inform persons detained on criminal charges of the charges against them and of their right to legal counsel. By law a magistrate may authorize the detention of an accused person for a period of no more than 90 days prior to filing charges. Under standard criminal procedure, authorities must release the accused on bail after 90 days if charges are not filed. NCRB data from 2015 showed most individuals awaiting trial spent more than three months in jail before they could secure bail, and nearly 65 percent spent between three months and five years before being released on bail.
The law also permits authorities to hold a detainee in judicial custody without charge for up to 180 days (including the 30 days in police custody). The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which gives authorities the ability to detain persons without charge in cases related to insurgency or terrorism for up to 180 days, makes no bail provisions for foreign nationals and allows courts to deny bail in the case of detained citizens of the country. It presumes the accused to be guilty if the prosecution can produce evidence of the possession of arms or explosives, or the presence of fingerprints at a crime scene, regardless of whether authorities demonstrate criminal intent. State governments also reportedly held persons without bail for extended periods before filing formal charges under the UAPA.
On August 28, Maharashtra police detained five human rights activists in connection with an alleged plot to overthrow the government and assassinate the prime minister. All five asserted wrongful arrest and detention, and further claimed that the arrests were intended to muzzle voices of dissent, as all five activists were active in protesting arrests of other human rights defenders. Maharashtra police synchronized police actions with counterparts across the country to arrest Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira in Mumbai, Gautam Navlakha in New Delhi, and Sudha Bharadwaj in Faridabad under the UAPA. Police alleged the activists were part of a Maoist conspiracy to incite violence at a public rally that led to violent caste-related clashes in Maharashtra in December 2017. On August 29, the Supreme Court directed the Maharashtra police to place the detained individuals under house arrest instead of in jail and cautioned that if the country did not allow dissent to be the safety valve of democracy, “the pressure cooker will burst.” On October 27, the Supreme Court declined a request to extend the house arrest. On the same day, a Pune Court rejected their bail applications, and the Maharashtra Police placed Gonsalves, Pereira, and Bharadwaj in jail.
Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, but in some cases police reportedly continued to arrest citizens arbitrarily. There were reports of police detaining individuals for custodial interrogation without identifying themselves or providing arrest warrants.
Pretrial Detention: NCRB data reported 293,058 prisoners were awaiting trial at the end of 2016. In July 2017 Amnesty International released a report on pretrial detention in the country, noting that shortages of police escorts, vehicles, and drivers caused delays in bringing prisoners to trial. According to the Amnesty report, the pretrial population is composed of a disproportionate amount of Muslims, Dalits, and Adivasis who made up 53 percent of prisoners awaiting trial. A committee convened by the Maharashtra government on orders of the Bombay High Court found persons awaiting trial during the year accounted for 73 percent of the prison population.
The government continued efforts to reduce lengthy detentions and alleviate prison overcrowding by using “fast track” courts, which specified trial deadlines, provided directions for case management, and encouraged the use of bail. Some NGOs criticized these courts for failing to uphold due process and requiring detainees unable to afford bail to remain in detention.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence, but judicial corruption was widespread.
The judicial system remained seriously overburdened and lacked modern case management systems, often delaying or denying justice. According to Department of Justice statistics released in September, there were 427 judicial vacancies out of a total of 1,079 judicial positions on the country’s 24 high courts.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, except in proceedings that involve official secrets or state security. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence, except as described under UAPA conditions, and may choose their counsel. The constitution specifies the state should provide free legal counsel to defendants who cannot afford it to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen, but circumstances often limited access to competent counsel. An overburdened justice system resulted in lengthy delays in court cases, with disposition sometimes taking more than a decade.
There were reported cases in which police denied suspects the right to meet with legal counsel as well as cases in which police unlawfully monitored suspects’ conversations and violated their confidentiality rights.
While defendants have the right to confront accusers and present their own witnesses and evidence, defendants sometimes did not exercise this right due to lack of proper legal representation. Defendants have the right not to testify or confess guilt. Courts must announce sentences publicly, and there are effective channels for appeal at most levels of the judicial system.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were reports of political prisoners and detainees. NGOs reported the state of Jammu and Kashmir held political prisoners and temporarily detained individuals under the PSA. The Jammu and Kashmir state government reported that more than 1,000 prisoners were detained under the PSA between March 2016 and August 2017. According to the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association, political prisoners made up one-half of all state detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Individuals, or NGOs on behalf of individuals or groups, may file public-interest litigation (PIL) petitions in any high court or directly to the Supreme Court to seek judicial redress of public injury. Grievances may include a breach of public duty by a government agent or a violation of a constitutional provision. NGOs credited PIL petitions with making government officials accountable to civil society organizations in cases involving allegations of corruption and partiality.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
While the constitution does not contain an explicit right to privacy, the Supreme Court has found such a right implicit in other constitutional provisions. In August 2017 the Supreme Court ruled that privacy is a “fundamental right” in a case involving government collection of biographical information.
The law, with some exceptions, prohibits arbitrary interference. The government generally respected this provision, although, at times, authorities infringed upon the privacy rights of citizens. The law requires police to obtain warrants to conduct searches and seizures, except for cases in which such actions would cause undue delay. Police must justify warrantless searches in writing to the nearest magistrate with jurisdiction over the offense.
On August 8, Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology S.S. Ahluwalia told the lower house of parliament the existing legislation and policies relating to privacy and data security were “insufficient,” according to recommendations the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India released on July 18.
Both the central and state governments intercepted communications under legal authority. The Group of Experts on Privacy convened in 2012 by the Government of India Planning Commission, the most recent review available, noted the differences between two provisions of law (section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act 1885 and section 69 of the Information Technology Act 2000, as amended) had created an unclear regulatory regime that was, according to the report, “inconsistent, nontransparent, prone to misuse, and does not provide remedy or compensation to aggrieved individuals.”
In addition the UAPA also allows use of evidence obtained from intercepted communications in terrorist cases. In the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, and Manipur, security officials have special authorities to search and arrest without a warrant.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, but it does not explicitly mention freedom of the press. The government generally respected this right, although there were several instances in which the government or actors considered close to the government allegedly pressured or harassed media outlets critical of the government, including through online trolling. There were also reports of extremists perpetrating acts of killing, violence, and intimidation against journalists critical of the government.
Freedom of Expression: Individuals routinely criticized the government publicly and privately. According to HRW, however, sedition and criminal defamation laws were sometimes used to prosecute citizens who criticized government officials or opposed state policies. In certain cases local authorities arrested individuals under laws against hate speech for expressions of political views. Freedom House, in its most recent report, asserted that freedom of expression was eroding in the country noted the government’s silence regarding direct attacks on free speech. In some instances the government reportedly withheld public-sector advertising from outlets that criticized the government, causing some outlets to practice self-censorship. According to media watchdog The Hoot, media freedom continued to deteriorate in the first quarter of the year. Between January and April, The Hoot detailed three journalists killed, 13 attacks on journalists, 50 instances of censorship, seven defamation cases, and more than 20 instances of suspension of internet services, as well as the taking down of online content. In 2017 reporting by The Hoot detailed 11 journalists killed, 46 alleged attacks on journalists, 77 internet shutdowns, and 20 sedition cases against 335 individuals.
On July 2, Tamil Nadu police registered a case against a human rights activist and a documentary filmmaker following the launch of a trailer for her upcoming documentary Orutharum Varala (“No one came”), which focused on the plight of victims of Cyclone Ockhi, a storm that hit Tamil Nadu in November 2017. Police charged her for promoting enmity between groups and insulting the national flag. According to media reports, police personnel searched her house without a warrant. At year’s end she remained under conditional bail.
In September 2017 Akhil Gogoi, a right to information activist and president of the anticorruption organization Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, was arrested in Assam on charges of sedition and labelled a Maoist by the government a day after he gave a speech criticizing various policies of the ruling BJP party. In December 2017 Guwahati High Court ordered Gogoi’s release.
Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. The law prohibits content that could harm religious sentiments or provoke enmity among groups, and authorities invoked these provisions to restrict print media, broadcast media, and publication or distribution of books.
According to a number of journalists, press freedom declined during the year. There were a number of reports, including from journalists and NGOs, that government officials, both at the local and national levels, were involved in silencing or intimidating critical media outlets through physical harassment/attacks, pressuring owners, targeting sponsors, and encouraging frivolous lawsuits.
The 2018 World Press Freedom Index identified physical attacks on journalists and online “trolls” as major areas of concern, noting, “with Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media and journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals.” The report also noted at least three journalists were killed in 2017 in connection with their work, as well as three in March. The report highlighted the use of Section 124a of the penal code, which includes sedition punishable by life imprisonment, to gag journalists.
The Editors Guild of India claimed the government limited press freedom by exerting political pressure and blocking television transmissions. In January Chandigarh-based The Tribune reported on privacy and security flaws in the government’s Aadhaar identity program, leading to the subsequent firing of its editor in chief Harish Khare after government pressure reportedly was brought to bear on the newspaper. Starting in January, Tamil Nadu media reported state-run Arasu Cable Network blocked several television channels’ live coverage of antigovernment protests for periods varying from a day to several months, and on May 22, it blocked coverage of police firing on protesters at a demonstration against the Sterlite copper smelting plant in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu.
The government maintained a monopoly on AM radio stations, limiting broadcasting to the state-owned All India Radio, and restricted FM radio licenses for entertainment and educational content. Widely distributed private satellite television provided competition for Doordarshan, the government-owned television network. There were some accusations of political interference in the state-owned broadcasters. State governments banned the import or sale of some books due to material that government censors deemed could be inflammatory or provoke communal or religious tensions.
Violence and Harassment: There were numerous instances of journalists and members of media being threatened or killed in response to their reporting. Police rarely identified suspects involved in the killing of journalists. A 2017 report by the Press Council of India highlighted that at least 80 journalists had been killed since 1990 and only one conviction had been made.
In March, Sandeep Sharma, a News World channel reporter investigating illegal sand mining in Madhya Pradesh, was run over by a dump truck shortly after filing an intimidation complaint against a police officer whom he accused of being in league with local criminal organizations. In July, Ahmedabad police beat DNA India photographer Praveen Indrekar while he was reporting on a police crackdown on illegal liquor sales.
Reporters were also attacked while covering elections. On April 9, Biplab Mondal, a photojournalist with the Times of India, and Manas Chattopadhyay, a reporter with regional television channel ETV Bharat, along with several other journalists, were assaulted by alleged Trinamool Congress loyalists while covering the process of filing nomination papers for local elections in West Bengal.
Online and mobile harassment was especially prevalent, and incidents of internet “trolling,” or making deliberately offensive or provocative online posts with the aim of upsetting someone, continued to rise. Journalists were threatened with violence and, in the case of female journalists, rape. On May 22, Rana Ayyub, a Mumbai-based independent journalist, wrote in the New York Times that after she criticized the prime minister’s policies towards minorities and lower-caste groups, she was targeted by “a coordinated social media campaign that slut shames, deploys manipulated images with sexually explicit language, and threatens rape.”
In September 2017 senior journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh was shot and killed by three assailants at her home in Bengaluru. At year’s end 16 individuals were arrested in connection with the case, without formal charges being filed, and the investigation continued.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: In August internet news portal The Wire reported the government disrupted the broadcast signal of ABP News and pressured the outlet into sidelining several of its journalists, including its editor in chief, in response to a story that claimed inaccuracies in one of the prime minister’s speeches. ABP anchor Punya Prasoon Vajpai and editor Milind Khandekar resigned, and the Editors Guild of India demanded action against officials for “throttling media freedom.”
Libel/Slander Laws: Individuals continued to be charged with posting offensive or derogatory material on social media. The NGO Freedom House noted that more than 20 individuals were detained for online comments about religion or political issues ranging from a water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to the government’s demonetization policy. In August a 24-year-old was arrested for posting “abusive” comments against Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy on social media.
National Security: In some cases government authorities cited laws protecting national interest to restrict media content. In August numerous outlets reported that the Indian Department of Telecom was seeking the views of telecom companies, industry associations, and other stakeholders on how to block mobile apps, including Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Instagram, “in cases where national security or public order are under threat.”
There were government restrictions on access to the internet, disruptions of access to the internet, and censorship of online content. There were also reports the government occasionally monitored users of digital media, such as chat rooms and person-to-person communications. The law permits the government to block internet sites and content and criminalizes sending messages the government deems inflammatory or offensive. Both central and state governments have the power to issue directions for blocking, intercepting, monitoring, or decrypting computer information.
In 2015 the Supreme Court overturned some provisions of information technology law that restricted content published on social media, but it upheld the government’s authority to issue orders to block online content “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of the State, and friendly relations with foreign states or public order” without court approval. In August 2017 the Ministry of Communications announced new rules allowing the government to shut telephone and internet services temporarily during a “public emergency” or for “public safety.”
According to media reports, as of August central and state governments temporarily shut down the internet in different locations across the country 95 times, the highest figure recorded and more than the total figure for 2017. Internet access and services were frequently curtailed during periods of violence and curfew in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and occasionally in other parts of the country, particularly Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Bihar. According to HRW, authorities sometimes failed to follow legal procedures and in some instances ordered shutdowns unnecessarily.
Requests for user data from internet companies continued to rise, and according to Facebook’s Transparency report, the government made 22,024 data requests in 2017, a 61.7-percent rise from 2016. Google also highlighted an increase in government requests for user data in its 2017 Transparency Report, receiving 14,932 user-data disclosure requests. Twitter reported 576 account information requests from the government during the same period.
In July the government announced that as many as 1,662 defamatory websites had been blocked on social media platforms following requests from law enforcement agencies. Officials stated the government blocked 956 sites on Facebook, 409 on Twitter, and 152 on YouTube, among others. The number of blocked URLs has grown annually, with more than double the number of URLs blocked in 2017 compared with previous years.
Freedom House, in its 2018 India Country Report, rated the country “partly free” with respect to internet user rights. The report documented arrests of internet users and group administrators for content distributed on social media accounts, including WhatsApp, and stated officials detained more than 20 individuals for online comments about religious or political issues.
The Central Monitoring System (CMS) continued to allow governmental agencies to monitor electronic communications in real time without informing the subject or a judge. The CMS is a mass electronic surveillance data-mining program installed by the Center for Development of Telematics, a government-owned telecommunications technology development center. The CMS gives security agencies and income tax officials centralized access to the telecommunication network and the ability to hear and record mobile, landline, and satellite telephone calls and Voice over Internet Protocol, to read private emails and mobile phone text messages, and to track geographical locations of individuals in real time. Authorities can also use it to monitor posts shared on social media and track users’ search histories on search engines, without oversight by courts or parliament. This monitoring facility was available to nine security agencies, including the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing, and the Ministry of Home Affairs. The law governing interception and monitoring provides an oversight mechanism to prevent unauthorized interceptions. Punishment for unauthorized interception includes fines, a maximum prison sentence of three years, or both.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The government occasionally applied restrictions on the travel and activities of visiting foreign experts and scholars. Academics continued to face threats and pressure for expressing controversial views. In July, The Wire reported the Delhi University administration canceled a magazine launch and panel discussion by Delhi University students on the freedom of expression allegedly due to pressure from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, a Hindu right-wing student association.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The law provides for freedom of assembly. Authorities often required permits and notification before parades or demonstrations, and local governments generally respected the right to protest peacefully. The state of Jammu and Kashmir was an exception, where the state government sometimes denied permits to separatist political parties for public gatherings, and security forces reportedly occasionally detained and assaulted members of political groups engaged in peaceful protest (see section 1.g.). During periods of civil unrest in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, authorities used the law to ban public assemblies and impose curfews.
Security forces, including local police, often disrupted demonstrations and reportedly used excessive force when attempting to disperse protesters. On May 22, Tamil Nadu police opened fire on protesters who were demanding the closure of the Sterlite copper smelting plant at Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, killing 15 individuals. The Tamil Nadu government claimed the police only fired on individuals who used logs and petrol bombs to set fire to vehicles during the protests.
There were sometimes restrictions on the organization of international conferences. Authorities required NGOs to secure approval from the central government before organizing international conferences. Authorities routinely granted permission, although in some cases the approval process was lengthy. Some human rights groups claimed this practice provided the government tacit control over the work of NGOs and constituted a restriction on freedoms of assembly and association.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The law provides for freedom of association. While the government generally respected this right, the government’s increased monitoring and regulation of NGOs that received foreign funding caused concern. In certain cases the government required “prior approval” for some NGOs to receive foreign funds, suspended foreign banking licenses, or froze accounts of NGOs that allegedly received foreign funding without the proper clearances or that mixed foreign and domestic funding, and in other instances canceled or declined to renew Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act (FCRA) registrations. On April 3, Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiran Rijiju informed the lower house of parliament that the government had canceled the registration of more than 14,000 NGOs in the last four years, although some of the cancellations reportedly pertained to defunct organizations. Some human rights organizations claimed these actions were sometimes used to target specific NGOs.
Some NGOs reported an increase in random FCRA compliance inspections by Ministry of Home Affairs officials who they said were purportedly under pressure to demonstrate strict enforcement of the law. FCRA licenses were also reportedly canceled periodically based on nonpublic investigations by the Intelligence Bureau. On June 1, the Ministry of Home Affairs launched an online tool to facilitate real-time monitoring of foreign funds deposited into NGO bank accounts. On June 5, it announced NGOs found in violation of FCRA provisions would be assessed a civil fine instead of having their licenses canceled or suspended. The rules, however, were not applicable retroactively. Some NGOs reported the new rules would severely affect smaller organizations that would be unable to pay the steep penalties–amounting to 10 percent of their total funds–and that did not have the compliance expertise, leaving only large entities able to maintain their FCRA licenses.
Some NGOs alleged they were targeted as a reprisal for their work on “politically sensitive” issues like human rights or environmental activism. The Center for Promotion of Social Concerns (CPSC) and its partner program unit People’s Watch continued court proceedings against the nonrenewal of their FCRA license. A September 12 report by the UN secretary general cited the use of FCRA regulations to “restrict the work of NGOs cooperating with the United Nations, for example by a refusal to renew or grant licenses, including for the CPSC.”
On October 25, the Enforcement Directorate (ED), a government agency that investigates financial crimes, raided the premises of Amnesty International India’s Bengaluru office and froze its bank accounts on suspicion that it had violated foreign funding guidelines. Aakar Patel, Amnesty International India’s executive director stated, “The Enforcement Directorate’s raid on our office today shows how the authorities are now treating human rights organizations like criminal enterprises, using heavy-handed methods that are commonly found in repressive states. Our staff have been harassed and intimidated.” The searches came days after the ED searched the premises of environmental nonprofit Greenpeace India in Bengaluru on October 12, also for allegedly violating foreign funding rules. Greenpeace India refuted the allegations stating, “This seems to be part of a larger design to muzzle democratic dissent in the country.”
In February the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), a public-health advocacy group, was placed in the “prior permission” category, requiring the organization to seek permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs each time it wanted to receive and use funds from foreign sources. The Ministry of Home Affairs indicated the center and state governments would review PHFI’s use of foreign funds quarterly and that the investigation into PHFI’s alleged FCRA violations would continue.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The Election Commission of India is an independent constitutional body responsible for administering all elections at the central and state level throughout the country. In 2017 a national electoral college elected President Ramnath Kovind to a five-year term. During the year the nine states of Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Rajasthan, Telangana, and Tripura held elections for their state assemblies. Observers considered these elections, which included more than 300 million participants, free and fair, despite very isolated instances of violence.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for universal voting rights for all citizens age 18 and older. There were no restrictions placed on the formation of political parties or on individuals of any community from participating in the election process. The election law bans the use of government resources for political campaigning, and the Election Commission effectively enforced the law. The commission’s guidelines ban opinion polls 48 hours prior to an election, and exit poll results may not be released until completion of the last phase (in a multiphase election).
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they freely participated. The law reserves one-third of the seats in local councils for women. Religious, cultural, and traditional practices and ideas prevented women from proportional participation in political office. Nonetheless, women held many high-level political offices, including positions as ministers, members of parliament, and state chief ministers.
The constitution stipulates that, to protect historically marginalized groups and provide for representation in the lower house of parliament, each state must reserve seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population in the state. Only candidates belonging to these groups may contest elections in reserved constituencies. While some Christians and Muslims were identified as Dalits, the government limited reserved seats for Dalits to Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains. Members of minority populations have previously served as prime minister, vice president, cabinet ministers, Supreme Court justices, and members of parliament.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials at all levels of government. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.
Corruption: Corruption was present at all levels of government. On July 18, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh informed parliament’s lower house that the CBI registered 314 corruption-related cases between January and June compared with 632 cases in 2017. NGOs reported the payment of bribes to expedite services, such as police protection, school admission, water supply, or government assistance. Civil society organizations drew public attention to corruption throughout the year, including through demonstrations and websites that featured stories of corruption.
Media reports, NGOs, and activists reported links among politicians, bureaucrats, contractors, militant groups, and security forces in infrastructure projects, narcotics trafficking, and timber smuggling in the northeastern states. In Manipur and Nagaland, allegations of bribes paid to secure state government jobs were prevalent, especially in police and education departments.
On February 1, the ED filed money-laundering charges against former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh, who stood accused of misrepresenting “proceeds of crime” as agricultural income totaling more than 72.56 million rupees (one million dollars). The former chief minister faced separate charges from the CBI, which alleged the senior politician amassed assets disproportionate to his reported income from 2009 to 2011.
Financial Disclosure: The law mandates asset declarations for all officers in the Indian Administrative Services. Both the Election Commission and the Supreme Court upheld mandatory disclosure of criminal and financial records for candidates for elected office.
On September 25, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the judiciary could not disqualify politicians facing charges related to serious offenses and stop them from contesting elections. The court asked the parliament to frame laws to bar those accused of crimes from being able to run for elected office.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Most domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating, and publishing their findings on human rights cases. In some circumstances, groups faced restrictions (see section 2.b, Freedom of Association). Reportedly more than three million NGOs in the country advocated for social justice, sustainable development, and human rights, but definitive numbers were not available. The government generally met with domestic NGOs, responded to their inquiries, and took action in response to their reports or recommendations. The NHRC worked cooperatively with numerous NGOs, and several NHRC committees had NGO representation. Some human rights monitors in the state of Jammu and Kashmir were able to document human rights violations, but periodically security forces, police, and other law enforcement authorities reportedly restrained or harassed them. Representatives of certain international human rights NGOs sometimes faced difficulties obtaining visas and reported that occasional official harassment and restrictions limited their public distribution of materials.
In July 2017 the Supreme Court rejected the relief plea of activists Teesta Setalvad, Javed Anand, and their colleagues from charges of corruption and misappropriation of funds. Additional charges were filed on May 30 for allegedly securing and misusing fraudulently 14 million rupees ($200,000) worth of government funds for educational purposes between 2010 and 2013. The activists claimed authorities filed the case in retaliation for their work on behalf of victims of the 2002 Gujarat riot. The case continued at year’s end.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government continued to decline access by the United Nations to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and limit access to the northeastern states, and Maoist-controlled areas. The June 14 OHCHR publication Report on the Human Rights Situation in Kashmir cited impunity for human rights violations and lack of access to justice as key human rights challenges in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The government rejected OHCHR’s report as “false, prejudicial, politically motivated, and [seeking] to undermine the sovereignty of India.”
Government Human Rights Bodies: The NHRC is an independent and impartial investigatory and advisory body, established by the central government, with a dual mandate to investigate and remedy instances of human rights violations and to promote public awareness of human rights. It is directly accountable to parliament but works in close coordination with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Law and Justice. It has a mandate to address official violations of human rights or negligence in the prevention of violations, intervene in judicial proceedings involving allegations of human rights violations, and review any factors (including acts of terrorism) that infringe on human rights. The law authorizes the NHRC to issue summonses and compel testimony, produce documentation, and requisition public records. The NHRC also recommends appropriate remedies for abuses in the form of compensation to the victims of government killings or their families.
The NHRC has neither the authority to enforce the implementation of its recommendations nor the power to address allegations against military and paramilitary personnel. Human rights groups claimed these limitations hampered the work of the NHRC. Some human rights NGOs criticized the NHRC’s budgetary dependence on the government and its policy of not investigating abuses more than one year old. Some claimed the NHRC did not register all complaints, dismissed cases arbitrarily, did not investigate cases thoroughly, rerouted complaints back to the alleged violator, and did not adequately protect complainants.
Twenty-four of 29 states have human rights commissions, which operated independently under the auspices of the NHRC. In six states the position of chairperson remained vacant. Some human rights groups alleged local politics influenced state committees, which were less likely to offer fair judgments than the NHRC. In the course of its nationwide evaluation of state human rights committees, the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) observed most state committees had few or no minority, civil society, or female representatives. The HRLN claimed the committees were ineffective and at times hostile toward victims, hampered by political appointments, understaffed, and underfunded.
The Jammu and Kashmir commission does not have the authority to investigate alleged human rights violations committed by members of paramilitary security forces. The NHRC has jurisdiction over all human rights violations, except in certain cases involving the army. The NHRC has authority to investigate cases of human rights violations committed by Ministry of Home Affairs paramilitary forces operating under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the northeast states and in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. According to the OHCHR Report on the Human Rights Situation in Kashmir, there has been no prosecution of armed forces personnel in the nearly 28 years that the AFSPA has been in force in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.