Harsh Mander: Outcry as Indian authorities search activist's premises

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Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Authorities are investigating a money laundering case against Harsh Mander

An official raid on the offices and home of a prominent human rights activist critical of the government has sparked outrage in India.

India's Enforcement Directorate, a government agency that fights financial crime, searched Harsh Mander's premises on Thursday.

Officials said they were investigating a money laundering case against him.

But activists and lawyers called the move an attempt to "threaten, intimidate and silence" critics.

"We condemn these raids to harass and intimidate a leading human rights and peace activist who has done nothing but work for peace and harmony, consistently upholding the highest moral standards of honesty and probity," over 700 of them said in a statement.

The signatories include economist Jean Dreze, historian Romila Thapar, women's right activist Kavita Krishnan, and filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, among others.

On Thursday, investigators searched three locations connected to Mr Mander's in the national capital, Delhi - his home, his office in the Centre for Equity Studies, and a children's home run by his organisation.

The raids happened a day after Mr Mander left for Berlin for a nine-month-long fellowship with the Robert Bosch Academy, according to Indian website Scroll.

Police had also searched two children's homes, with whom Mr Mander had been associated in the past, in 2020 to investigate alleged financial irregularities committed by him.

A writer, researcher and social activist by profession, Mr Mander has been a staunch critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government.

In his writings, he has widely criticised the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for its handling of the coronavirus crisis, the 2020 riots in Delhi, and the "intensifying attack" on press freedom in India.

He currently runs Karwan-e-Mohabbat, a countrywide campaign in solidarity with the victims of communal or religiously motivated violence.

Mr Mander was a prominent voice in the massive 2019 protests against a controversial new citizenship law, which critics say discriminates against Muslims - a charge Mr Modi's government rejects.

Police in Delhi had accused Mr Mander of delivering a hate speech during the protests, which he denied.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has been accused of suppressing dissent

After Thursday's raids, several activists accused the government of deliberately targeting Mr Mander for his work. They said it was part of a "continuing chain of abuse of state institutions" to quell all dissent.

"The Indian government's raids appear intended to harass and intimidate critics, and reflect a broader pattern of trying to silence all criticism," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"These abuses weaken India's core democratic institutions and break down fundamental freedoms."

Mr Modi has been widely accused of using government institutions to target his critics and suppress dissent, raising fears about press freedom in the world's largest democracy.

On September 15, tax authorities searched the premises of actor Sonu Sood, alleging tax evasion on a real estate deal. Critics said the raids were politically motivated because of his philanthropic work during the pandemic.

Media caption, Delhi religious riots: 'Mobs set fire to my house and shop'

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