India’s war on Greenpeace

The New York Times reports: Greenpeace India said in a statement on Friday that its permit to operate in India had been revoked on the grounds that it had falsified financial documents, the latest in a series of government actions taken against the environmental organization.

The move against the group is one of many “clumsy tactics to suppress free speech and dissenting voices” by the government, Vinuta Gopal, the interim executive director of Greenpeace India, said in the statement.

The organization will fight the authorities’ cancellation of the permit in court, she said in a telephone interview. [Continue reading…]

Samanth Subramanian wrote in August: After deciding not to sleep at all before her 6.50am flight out of Delhi, Priya Pillai felt slow and drowsy as she handed her passport over the immigration counter. It was a few hours past midnight on 11 January 2015; Pillai, a campaigner with Greenpeace India, knew that two full weeks of work awaited her in London. At check-in, she had secured an aisle seat, which made her happy. Now, as the official scanned her passport, Pillai sent idle texts to a colleague in Boston and pondered a plan to visit a friend in the north of England for the weekend.

Behind the counter, the official reached for a square of paper and began taking notes. His name was VK Ojha, Pillai remembers, and he looked fresh and alert. He had a neat moustache and wore a white shirt and navy blue trousers. Minutes went by, and Ojha scribbled on.

“Is there a problem?” Pillai asked.

“Yes, ma’am. Please wait here.”

Ojha vanished. From the next counter, a curious official asked for Pillai’s name and, after typing it into his computer, said: “Greenpeace?” Pillai nodded. When Ojha returned, he led Pillai to an office run by the immigration authority. There, he asked Pillai for her passport and told her – most politely, Pillai remembers – that she couldn’t leave the country.

Pillai is a voluble person, and she spent the next four hours demanding explanations from immigration officials. She got none. When an Air India employee came by, he was asked to take Pillai’s luggage off the plane, which terrified her. She thought: “They’ll put drugs in my bags, and they’ll say: ‘This is why we’re arresting you.’”

Pillai was sure that the state was not beyond framing her. Since 2010, she had been part of a Greenpeace group that was protesting the government’s decision to commission new coal mines in the woods of Mahan in central India. She was travelling to London, in fact, to talk to an informal group of British MPs about Mahan and about Essar Energy, an Indian power and fossil fuel giant incorporated in the UK in 2009 and listed briefly on the London Stock Exchange. Essar Energy was one of two companies licensed to mine in Mahan; Greenpeace argued that the filthy process of mining coal would pulverise acres of forest and displace thousands who lived in the area.

The government took a dim view of these protests. Some of Pillai’s colleagues had been arrested in Mahan on flimsy charges that never stuck. Police and intelligence agencies monitored the activists closely; Pillai was sure they were aware of her London trip. “I know my phone has been tapped for years,” she said. “I’ve had experiences [such as] getting on to a train from Delhi to go to Mahan, and even the people there don’t know I’m coming, but the police or the local intelligence people there will call these people in Mahan and say: ‘Priya’s coming, right?’ I’ve had bureaucrats tell me: ‘You should be careful. You’re under surveillance.’” [Continue reading…]

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