India must immediately lift the arbitrary travel ban imposed on human rights activist and Chair of Amnesty International India Board Aakar Patel, the rights watchdog Amnesty International said Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Aakar Patel was on his way to attend multiple conferences on the use of social media for social and political change and the attacks on civil society in India organized by the University of Michigan, University of Berkeley, and New York University in the United States of America. Immigration authorities at the Bangalore Airport prevented him from leaving the country despite a judicial order permitting him to travel outside India for his speaking engagements.
“Denying Aakar’s right to freedom of movement to prevent him from exercising his freedom of expression is an alarming manifestation of the Indian government’s mounting crackdown on human rights defenders and activists,” said Kyle Ward, Deputy Secretary-General of Amnesty International.
According to Ward, “operating in a climate of harassment, intimidation, interference and constant surveillance is unacceptable, but has, unfortunately, become routine for human rights activists in India.”
In October 2020, Amnesty International India was forced to cease its human rights work after its bank accounts were frozen by the Enforcement Directorate. Since then, Amnesty International India has been fighting multiple court cases instituted by various agencies of the Indian Government against the organization.
Before it halted operations, Amnesty International India faced a concerted and vicious smear campaign of spurious allegations, raids by various investigative agencies, malicious media leaks, and intimidation for merely speaking the truth to power, the watchdog said. As the Chair of Amnesty International India Board, Aakar Patel is regularly at the forefront of ongoing litigation.
“Imposing travel bans on human rights defenders in India is not new. In the last few years, many human rights activists and journalists have been banned at the last moment from attending international conferences and UN events on the human rights situation in India. This incessant witch-hunt is contrary to India’s international human rights obligations and reflects poorly on its role as a member of the UN Human Rights Council,” read the statement by Kyle Ward.
For Aakar, who dares to raise his voice peacefully and consistently against injustice, a travel ban is nothing but retaliation from the Indian government against his activism. It must be immediately revoked, Ward said.