The Indian High Court would not have become the first in the world to strike down mandatory death penalties for drug trafficking offenses if Anand Grover, director of the Lawyers Collective, had not mounted the legal case that characterized the law as “arbitrary, excessive and disproportionate.”
But in recent months, the renowned legal advocate has been facing escalating attempts by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to undermine his work. On July 11, CBI conducted a raid on his New Delhi home and office, as well as those of his colleague Indira Jaising, the Lawyers Collective’s senior advocate.
In late June, the CBI filed criminal charges against the group, even though a court is currently considering its cancellation. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, called this additional legal action a “blatant misuse of its agencies by the Indian Government to target critical human rights work.”
The CBI alleges that Lawyers Collective violated the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), a law that allowed the government in 2016 to revoke Lawyers Collective’s registration and freeze its bank accounts for “activities not conducive to national interest.” That year, the United National Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders described the Lawyer Collective’s bank account suspension as a “politically motivated” attempt at “intimidating, delegitimising and silencing […] their litigation and criticism of the Government’s policies.”
Grover has represented petitioners in landmark cases that saw India’s Supreme Court overturning the colonial-era law that criminalized homosexuality, recognizing transgender people’s legal protections, and prohibiting Big Pharma from patenting certain medications, like antiretroviral therapies for HIV.
In June 2019, 10 human rights organizations called on the government to “end all acts of harassment” that are violating, as Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai described in 2016, Lawyers Collective’s “right to freedom of association under international law, standards, and principles.”
“We, people who use drugs, stand in solidarity with Anand Grover and Indira Jaising and demand an end to the enactment and deployment of arbitrary laws and regulations that are used as a smokescreen in silencing dissent and opposition,” stated the International Network of People who Use Drugs and the Asian Network of People who Use Drugs. “In an era of rising right-wing populism, fierce and independent advocacy is needed more than ever; attempts to quell legitimate dissent must be called out for what they are.”