Explained: The Geo Politics On Freedom House Report

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The Freedom House Report concluded that due to decline in India’s status from Free to Partly Free country the global democratic standards has come down, as India houses 17.7% of the total world population.

New Delhi (ABC Live India): The Indian government on Friday categorically rejected the report released the United States based Non Governmental Organization, the Freedom House, wherein India is tagged as Partly Free.

The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting in a press release stated that the Freedom House report titled “Democracy under Siege” wherein, it has been claimed that India’s status as a free country has been declined to “partly free”, is misleading, incorrect and misplaced.

The Freedom House report titled “Democracy under Siege” on India says, “India, the world’s most populous democracy, dropped from Free to Partly Free status in Freedom in the World 2021. The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its state-level allies continued to crack down on critics during the year, and their response to COVID-19 included a ham-fisted lockdown that resulted in the dangerous and unplanned displacement of millions of internal migrant workers. The ruling Hindu nationalist movement also encouraged the scapegoating of Muslims, who were disproportionately blamed for the spread of the virus and faced attacks by vigilante mobs. Rather than serving as a champion of democratic practice and a counterweight to authoritarian influence from countries such as China, Modi and his party are tragically driving India itself toward authoritarianism.”

Further the Report concluded that due to decline in India’s status from Free to Partly Free country the global democratic standards has come down, as India houses 17.7% of the total world population.

Also, the report alleged that political rights and civil liberties in the country have deteriorated since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, with increased pressure on human rights organizations, rising intimidation of academics and journalists, and a spate of bigoted attacks, including lynchings, aimed at Muslims. The decline only accelerated after Modi’s re-election in 2019. Last year, the government intensified its crackdown on protesters opposed to a discriminatory citizenship law and arrested dozens of journalists who aired criticism of the official pandemic response. Judicial independence has also come under strain; in one case, a judge was transferred immediately after reprimanding the police for taking no action during riots in New Delhi that left over 50 people, mostly Muslims, dead. In December, Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, approved a law that prohibits forced religious conversion through interfaith marriage, which critics fear will effectively restrict interfaith marriage in general; authorities have already arrested a number of Muslim men for allegedly forcing Hindu women to convert to Islam. Amid the pandemic the government imposed an abrupt COVID-19 lockdown in the spring, which left millions of migrant workers in cities without work or basic resources. Many were forced to walk across the country to their home villages, facing various forms of mistreatment along the way. Under Modi, India appears to have abandoned its potential to serve as a global democratic leader, elevating narrow Hindu nationalist interests at the expense of its founding values of inclusion and equal rights for all.

India government led by Mr. Narendra Modi swiftly sensed the gravity of geopolitical message  conveyed  through this report, and  issued a press release  rebutting  all the allegations raised by the Freedom House Report on Friday. 

Rebuttal to Freedom House Report are as under;

  1. Discriminatory policies against Muslims in India and North East Delhi riots– the Government of India treats all its citizens with equality as enshrined under the Constitution of the country and all laws are applied without discrimination. Due process of law is followed in matters relating to law and order, irrespective of the identity of the alleged instigator. With specific reference to the North East Delhi riots in February 2020, the law enforcement machinery acted swiftly in an impartial and fair manner. Proportionate and appropriate actions were taken to control the situation. Necessary legal and preventive actions were taken by the law enforcement machinery on all complaints/calls received, as per law and procedures. 
  2. Use of sedition law –“Public Order’ and ‘Police’ are State subjects under India’s federal structure of governance. The responsibility of maintaining law and order, including investigation, registration and prosecution of crimes, protection of life and property, etc., rests primarily with the concerned State governments. Therefore, measures as deemed fit are taken by law enforcement authorities to preserve public order.
  3. Government response to COVID-19 through Lockdown – between March 16 to 23, most State governments/Union Territories resorted to partial or full Lockdown in their respective State/ Union Territory based on their assessment of the COVID-19 situation. Any mass movement of people would have spread the disease rapidly throughout the country. Taking into consideration these facts, the global experience and need for consistency in the approach and implementation of various containment measures across the country, a nationwide lockdown was announced. The government was fully conscious that during the period of an inevitable Lockdown, people should not face undue distress. Aware of this, the government took various measures to address the situation such as; (1) Government of India allowed State governments to utilize State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) for purpose of providing food, healthcare, shelter to homeless persons and migrant workers (2) the Government allowed the engagement of migrant workers in various activities outside containment zones which would allow them a livelihood (3) the Government also announced a relief package of Rs. 1.7 lakh crore which also covered migrant workers (3) the Government launched a mission to boost employment and livelihood opportunities for migrant workers returning to their villages (4) approximately 80 crore beneficiaries were provided 5kg wheat or rice, 1 kg pulses free of cost every month till November 2020 under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) (5) daily wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) were enhanced which also covered returning migrant workers. The Lockdown period allowed the Government to ramp up production capacity of masks, ventilators, Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) kits etc. and thereby effectively prevent the spread of the pandemic. India has, on per capita basis, registered one of the lowest rates of active COVID-19 cases and COVID-19 related deaths globally.
  4. Government response on human rights organizations – the Indian Constitution provides for adequate safeguards under various statutes, including the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 for ensuring protection of human rights. This Act provides for the constitution of a National Human Rights Commission and State Human Rights Commissions in the States for better protection of human rights and for matters connected to this subject. The National Commission is headed by a retired Supreme Court judge and works as a mechanism to inquire, investigate and make recommendations in cases where it finds that there is a violation of human rights in the country.
  5. Intimidation of academics and journalists and crackdown on expressions of dissent by media – the Indian Constitution provides for freedom of expression under Article 19. Discussion, debate and dissent is part of Indian democracy. The Government of India attaches highest importance to the safety and security of all residents of the country, including journalists. The Government of India has issued a special advisory to States and Union Territories on safety of journalists requesting them to strictly enforce the law to ensure safety and security of media persons. 
  6. Internet shutdowns –Temporary suspension of the telecom services, including internet, are governed under the provisions of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017, which are issued under the provisions of the Indian Telegraph Act, 185.  These temporary suspensions need authorization of the Secretary to the Government of India, in the Ministry of Home Affairs, in the case of the Central Government; or of the Secretary, in-charge of the Home Department, in the case of a State Government.  Moreover, any such orders are reviewed by the Review Committee, constituted in the Central or State Government, under the chair of Cabinet Secretary of Government of India or Chief Secretary of the concerned State, respectively, within a specified time period.  Hence, the temporary suspension of telecom/internet services is resorted to with the over-arching objective of maintaining law and order under strict safeguards.
  7. FCRA amendment leading to freezing of Amnesty International’s assets has led to decline in ranking–Amnesty International had received permission under the FCRA Act only once and that too 20 years ago (19.12.2000). Since then Amnesty International, despite its repeated applications, has been denied FCRA approval by successive governments since as per law it is not eligible to get such an approval. However, in order to circumvent the FCRA regulations, Amnesty U.K. remitted large amounts of money to four entities registered in India, by misclassifying the remittance as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). A significant amount of foreign money was also remitted to Amnesty India without MHA’s approval under FCRA. This malafide rerouting of money was in contravention of extant legal provisions. Owing to these illegal practices of Amnesty, the previous government had also rejected the repeated applications of Amnesty to receive funds from overseas. This had led Amnesty to suspend its operations once during that period as well.

                                                                                              Geo Politics on Freedom House & Its Reports

In year 2001, the China and Cuba questioned the status of the Freedom House as UN consultative NGO under ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31, 25 July 1996 , and the United Nations Committee on NGOs held discussions on the questions raised by China and Cuba Against the Freedom House & Its Reports.

The Minutes of the UN Committee on NGOs says that, “The representative of India, while recognizing the valuable work the organization had done regarding human rights, raised some questions related to the organization’s rating of countries on its Web site.  He noted that his Country, maybe one of the largest democracies in the world and one of the oldest among developing countries, had gotten a rating of 2.3 out of 10 and that his people were “partially free”, as in other developing countries.  He noted that all developed countries had been ranked as “totally free”.

Further, Minutes of the UN Committee on NGOs stated that the representative of the United States stated that It had been alleged that Freedom House received its orders and direction from the United States Government.  He agreed that if a foreign policy goal of his Government was to bring world peace and support for peoples and nations to express their voice, Freedom House was in compliance with that policy, but his Government did not give directions.  The fact that Freedom House criticized the United States for shortcomings in its own democracy was evidence that it was acting as it saw fit.  The NGO had fully disclosed its Government funding, which had come from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and not the CIA.  His Country’s law prohibited the CIA from funding organizations that sought to alter United States policy, something Freedom House did.

Also, the minutes of meeting inscribed that the representative of the Russian Federation stated that the activities of Freedom House warranted concern due to the increasingly political motives behind its activities.  The NGO had set up the American Committee for Chechnya, and in that Committee’s materials, the region of Chechnya was not shown as part of Russia.  That Committee had also organized trips to the United States for Russian separatists and terrorists.  In addition, many of that Committee’s statements had smelled of “Russiaphobia”.  As a result, he doubted the NGO’s claim that it was not directly engaged in “activities” in Member States.

In another Minutes of the UN Committee on NGOs  of 2001 says that, "The representative of Germany pointed out that Freedom House had also criticized his Government’s decision to ban Nazi propaganda on the Internet, which the organization said violated the freedoms of speech and press.  That criticism, in his view, was not justified since such legislation was important in light of recent history.  At the same time, that did not lead his Government to doubt the good work being done by the organization."

                                                                                  Some Facts about the Freedom House & Its Reports

The official website of the Freedom House says that, “The organization's non-partisan Board of Trustees is comprised of prominent business and labor leaders, former diplomats and senior government officials, scholars, and journalists. They all share a steadfast commitment to the mission of Freedom House and to the belief that the promotion of democracy and human rights is essential for international peace.”

The Freedom House is the oldest NGO based at Washington, working in the field of global monitoring of freedom. It was founded just before the U.S. entered into World War II and flourished during the Cold War era.

Freedom House today positions itself as a liberal and an independent organization having status of UN consultative NGO under ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31, 25 July 1996, but it receives about 80% of its funding from the U.S. government, either through the State Department, USAID, or the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

The Washington based NGO publishes its annual the World Freedom report, wherein it ranks countries according to their respective freedom index based upon their own developed methodologies.

The Freedom House report is generally refer by media in their news reporting, but has been frequently criticized by intellectuals for its subjective methodologies in reaching specific conclusions. 

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