India has declared the Muslim group Popular Front of India (PFI) and its affiliates illegal, accused them of involvement in “terrorism,” and banned them for five years after authorities arrested more than 100 PFI members this month.
“It has been found that the Popular Front of India and its employees or affiliates or fronts are involved in serious crimes, including terrorism and its funding, targeted gruesome murders and disregard for the constitutional institution,” the Indian Ministry of the Interior said on Wednesday in an explanation.
The statement said that the government has banned PFI and its subsidiaries Rehab India Foundation, Campus Front of India, All India Imams Council, National Confederation of Human Rights Organization, National Women’s Front, Junior Front, Empower India Foundation and Rehab Foundation, Kerala.
The government said it had found a “number of cases of international links between PFI and global terrorist groups,” adding that some of its members had joined the armed group ISIL (ISIS) and participated in “terrorist activities” in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The PFI came together at the end of 2006 to counter Hindu nationalist groups and was officially launched the next year with the merger of two other organizations based in South India. On its website, it calls itself a “social movement that strives for total empowerment.”
The group denied allegations of violence and anti-national activity on Tuesday as their offices were raided and dozens of members were jailed in various states.
Mohammed Tahir, a lawyer for the PFI, said the government failed to provide evidence that the organization had received funds from outside and financed “terror” activities in India, or that it had accused of organizing riots in cities and attacks on Hindu organizations and their leaders to have.
The Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), which is working with the PFI on some issues but was not included in the ban, said the government had dealt a blow against democracy and human rights.
“Free speech, protests and organizations were ruthlessly suppressed by the regime against the basic principles of the Indian Constitution,” the SDPI said in a statement on Twitter.
“The regime is abusing investigative agencies and laws to silence the opposition and prevent people from expressing their voice of dissent. An undeclared emergency is clearly visible in the country.”
Some SDPI offices were raided and some of their members were arrested this month.
Muslims, who account for more than 14 percent of India’s 1.4 billion people, have complained that they were marginalized by Prime Minister Narendra Modi under the rule of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Modi’s party denies the allegations.
Critics say, however, the re-election of the BJP landslide in 2019 has encouraged the Ministry of the Interior and investigative agencies to declare individuals “terrorists” based solely on allegations, the partial autonomy of India-administered Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority State of the country, and a civil register in the northeastern state of Assam, which excluded two million people, including many Muslims.
The PFI ban was enforced under the strict Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which gives the government extraordinary powers to handle activities that are directed against India’s integrity and sovereignty. It can describe people as “terrorists” in anticipation of legal proceedings.
CNN Breaking News Pavni Mittal reported from New Delhi and said the five-year PFI ban was the end of a sustained crackdown on the organization.
“A lot of people say that this could be part of a larger political motive. A few years ago, the government passed a citizenship law that sparked nationwide protests. The PFI was accused of carrying out some of these protests and funding some of the violence. So there are questions as to why the PFI was banned with such a strict law,” she said.
“Many also say that if you ban municipal organizations, why not start with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or the RSS. It is an organization that includes the prime minister,” she added, referring to the BJP’s far-right ideological mentor, who aims to turn a constitutionally secular India into an ethnic Hindu state.