A Release by Front Line Defenders
On 29 June 2015, a travel ban was imposed on human rights defender Ms Teesta Setalvad one week before the Supreme Court proceedings on granting her bail.
Teesta Setalvad is a journalist and founder of Sabrang Trust and Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP). Sabrang Trust was established after the 1992-1993 communal violence in Mumbai, and works to promote conflict resolution and support peace building. CJP was established in April 2002, in the immediate aftermath of the communal violence during the Gujarat riots, to provide legal aid to the survivors of the riots, and has been instrumental in obtaining the 117 convictions against perpetrators of the violence, among which are politicians and government officials. Narendra Modi, who has been Prime Minister since 2014, was Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time of the riots and was criticised for his conduct at that time.
On 29 June 2015, Teesta Setalvad was refused permission to travel by an order of the Sessions Court. The human rights defender was invited to an international seminar in Brazil and applied for permission to travel, as her passport has been in the custody of the local Courts since October 2014 due to the pending charges against her. Previously, on 2 May 2015 the Court granted Teesta Setalvad permissions to travel to South Korea and Indonesia.
The human rights defender submitted an appeal against the travel ban before the Gujarat High Court. The hearing on this matter is expected to take place on 7 or 8 July 2015.
The travel ban was imposed on the human rights defender one week before the upcoming hearing on her case before the Supreme Court of India, which puts additional pressure on Teesta Setalvad as she attempts to continue her legitimate human rights work. On 7 July the Court will decide about the extension of Setalvad’s bail, as she is facing charges of forgery and criminal breach of trust.
The harassment comes in the context of broader judicial proceedings against Teesta Setalvad and her spouse, based on charges of alleged embezzlement of funds intended for the construction of a memorial to the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots. On 26 June 2015, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs decided that the investigation against Teesta Setalvad and her husband would be carried forward by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as a criminal case. The investigation began in January 2014, and have resulted in continuous harassment and systematic probes into the accounts of Setalvad’s NGO and groundless accusations of non-cooperation. Furthermore, the bank accounts of Setalvad’s Sabrang Communication and Publishing Private Limited (SCPPL) have been frozen, and the state investigators have directed the bank authorities not to allow further credit or withdrawal of foreign contributions from the accounts without its permission.
Front Line Defenders expresses its concern at the travel ban imposed on Teesta Setalvad and continuous harassment against her, as it believes the travel ban to be an attempt to intensify the harassment of the human rights defender, and to repress her legitimate work in the defence of human rights.
Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in India to:
1. Immediately remove the travel ban issued against Teesta Setalvad;
2. Ensure that any investigations into Teesta Setalvad, her husband and her organisations, are grounded on objective evidence and are carried out in a proper legal manner, including the ending of attempts to open multiple parallel investigations;
3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in India are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.