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India’s Treatment of Political Opponents and the Press: Concerns over Targeting and Silencing Critics

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Rahul Gandhi, a top opposition figure in India, has been expelled from parliament following his defamation conviction for a remark made against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Gandhi, a leader of the Congress party, has been accused of making derogatory comments against Modi and his surname during the 2019 election campaign. While his lawyers have vowed to appeal Thursday’s verdict, the conviction has ruled him ineligible to continue serving as a lawmaker in parliament.

Modi’s government has been widely criticized for using the law to silence critics and target political opponents. Gandhi’s case is one of several lodged against him in recent years. Members of the government accused him of trying to create rifts between communities and labeled him a “habitual loose cannon.”

Gandhi’s conviction follows disruptions to parliamentary proceedings by Congress lawmakers who were demanding a probe into Modi’s relationship with tycoon Gautam Adani. Adani’s business empire has been subject to renewed scrutiny this year after a US investment firm accused it of corporate fraud.

Legal action has been widely deployed against opposition party figures and institutions seen as critical of the Modi government. Gandhi faces at least two other defamation cases and a money laundering case that has been snaking its way through India’s legal system for more than a decade.

In February, Indian tax authorities raided BBC’s local offices, weeks after the broadcaster aired a documentary on Modi’s conduct during deadly sectarian riots decades ago. The Editors Guild of India said the raids were part of a wider “trend of using government agencies to intimidate or harass press organizations that are critical of government policies.”

The conviction of Gandhi and the actions taken against other critics highlight the growing concerns about the Indian government’s treatment of political opponents and freedom of the press.

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