This week, Law360 reported that Frontiers of Freedom, an American NGO dedicated to protecting the rights and freedoms of individuals and businesspersons across the globe, submitted a petition under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act “to enact serious sanctions against 11 Indian officials for alleged human rights abuses committed against” Devas co-founder Ramachandran Viswanathan.

Read the full petition filed by Frontiers of Freedom here.

The petition was provided to the U.S. Departments of State and Treasury, and requests that the U.S. government implement economic and visa sanctions on 11 of Modi’s top officials for their “attempts to extradite Devas Multimedia’s Ramachandran Viswanathan to India for trial, where he would likely be unlawfully detained and subject to inhumane treatment.”

Matthew D. McGill, lead counsel to Devas shareholders and partner at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, lauded the filing of the petition:

The submission of this petition on behalf of Mr. Viswanathan sends a strong message to India: U.S. businesspersons and investors are protected under U.S. and international law, and any attempts to intimidate, harass, or retaliate against them by abusing international organizations and treaties will be met with swift, definitive action. The autocratic perpetrators within the Modi regime will be held accountable for their lawless, thuggish behavior.”

The Modi government, in its desperate campaign to evade paying lawful arbitration awards owed to Devas shareholders, have engaged in an abusive campaign of harassment and transnational repression against Mr. Viswanathan, including unlawful attempts to use the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty in Criminal Matters between the U.S. and India to “gain intelligence, monitor, question and arrest Mr. Viswanathanas noted by Frontiers of Freedom.

George Landrith, President of Frontiers of Freedom, in announcing the petition stated, “The actions of the autocratic Indian regime led by Prime Minister Modi are an assault on the rule of law and the rights and freedoms granted to every American. We urge the U.S. government to look past India’s façade and punish, with sanctions, those who seek to violate the rights of Mr. Viswanathan.”

Law360 writes further Indian officials have also asked Interpol to issue a “red notice” asking worldwide officials to arrest Viswanathan, which means that the satellite company founder cannot leave the U.S. without the fear of being detained…

All of this behavior is very clearly a violation of Mr. Viswanathan’s rights and freedoms. Frontiers of Freedom reiterates that the Modi government’s actions are simply retaliation and intended to stop the efforts of Mr. Viswanathan’s company he co-founded, Devas, from enforcing a billion dollar arbitration judgment against the Indian government.”

The 11 Indian Government Officials Named by Frontiers of Freedom

  • Nirmala Sitharaman, Finance Minister (May 2019 – Present)
  • Rakesh Sasibhushan, Chairman of Antrix Corporation Limited (June 2016 – Present)
  • Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General (October 2018 – Present)
  • Hemant Gupta, Judge, Supreme Court of India (November 2018 – Present)
  • V. Ramasubramanian, Judge, Supreme Court of India (September 2019 – Present)
  • Judge Chandra Shekhar, Special Judge (PC Act), New Delhi
  • Ashish Pareek, Deputy Superintendent of Police, CBI, New Delhi
  • Sanjay Kumar Mishra, Director of Enforcement, Enforcement Directorate
  • R. Rajesh, Assistant Director, Enforcement Directorate
  • N. Venkatraman, Additional Solicitor General of India
  • A. Sadiq Mohamed Naijnar, Deputy Director of the Enforcement Directorate

Magnitsky Act

The Global Magnitsky Act of 2016 along with Executive Order 13818 authorizes the U.S. government to sanction foreign government officials worldwide who have been deemed serious human rights offenders. The sanction would freeze the offenders’ assets and block them from entering the United States. Frontiers of Freedom collaborated with Mr. Viswanathan’s counsel, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, as well as Mr. Viswanathan himself to compile and submit the petition.

Yesterday, the Financial Times reported that the Indian government called a secret meeting in February 2020 with representatives of Devas at a lavish Paris hotel to hash out an agreement to settle their long-running dispute over the unlawful cancellation of a contract in 2011.

According to the Financial Times, Ajit Doval, National Security Advisor to Prime Minister Modi and Alur Seelin Kiran Kumar, former chair of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), represented the Indian government at the closed-door meeting, while co-founder Ramachandran Viswanathan represented Devas along with Larry Babbio, the former president of Verizon and Columbia Capital partner Jim Fleming.

Moreover, the Financial Times reports: “Following the meeting, a deal was drafted which included a provision that all proceedings, including a probe by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation, be dropped. However, the Indian government abruptly stopped responding to Devas’s calls.”

Read the full article from the Financial Times here.

Politically Motivated

The Financial Times reports the Modi government has made the case politicized, “providing Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party with a means of attacking the Congress party, its chief political rival, that struck the contract with Devas when it was in power between 2004 and 2014.”

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman gave a political campaign speech where she called the Devas-Antrix deal a “fraud of the Congress, by the Congress, for the Congress.”

Well-known professor of law at India’s Jindal Global Law School, Prabhash Ranjan, told the Financial TimesOne of the endeavours [of the BJP] has always been to completely delegitimise the Congress party and whatever it did before 2014. The narrative is that before 2014 the country was run by a bunch of crooks who looted the country.”

Read the full article from the Financial Times here.

Indian Government Agreed to Drop Criminal Proceedings

Interestingly, the deal drafted “included a provision that all proceedings, including a probe by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation, be dropped.”

Last week, the Hindu BusinessLine reported Modi’s government has become increasing desperate and has sought to declare Devas co-founder, Ramachandran Viswanathan, an “Economic Fugitive” in their phony Prevention of Money Laundering Act case against him.

Reacting to the recent proceedings by the Indian government against Viswanathan, Devas Counsel, Matthew D McGill said, “I believe that government of India’s actions against Viswanathan is a type of thuggish behaviour that we’re used to seeing from Russia, but not from the world’s largest democracy and amount to an intimidation campaign.” 

Read the full article from the Financial Times here.

India’s “Thuggish Behavior” against Devas Escalates with Red Notice Request

Recently, the Daily Caller reported that they had spoken to Ted Bromund, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and recognized expert on Interpol, who observed that India “commits more abuse than people are aware of.” Bromund warned that “governments can abuse the system to go after political dissidents, including uncooperative businessmen like Viswanathan.”

The Daily Caller also met with Mr. Viswanathan for an exclusive sit down where he spoke out about the Modi government’s campaign of lawless behavior in their desperate effort to pressure Devas shareholders to end their global enforcement efforts.

The interview revealed for the first time that the Indian government has sought a Red Notice from Interpol for the arrest of Mr. Viswanathan.

McGill commented that the Indian government’s actions amounted to an intimidation campaign and an international warrant for Mr. Viswanathan’s arrest would be “manufactured based on wholly fabricated allegations.

Interpol is yet to issue a ruling on the request but did reach out to the Indian government in May with more questions about their request against Mr. Viswanathan. Bromund notes the delay is likely because Interpol has “grave concerns” about the request from India.

Read the full article from the Daily Caller here.

Freedom House Exposes Transnational Repression Occurring at the Hands of the Modi Regime

Last month, the Washington Post highlighted a new Freedom House report, Defending Democracy in Exile, which focuses on increasingly aggressive cases of transnational repression by autocratic regimes looking to silence opponents.

The Freedom House report details a stark increase in worldwide cases of transnational repression in 2021, with 85 new cases of “public, direct, physical incidents of transnational repression” reported last year alone. The 42-page indictment warns of an alarming uptick of “brazen” actions by these regimes that seek to exploit international bodies like Interpol to advance their political agenda. The report names a number of countries that “demonstrated a dangerous disregard for international law, democratic norms, and state sovereignty”, including the Indian government.

Modi Government: “Physical Transnational Repression”

According to Freedom House, the Modi government has escalated the use of “physical transnational repression”, targeting the physical health and safety of those who assert their rights and defy the dictates of the Modi regime abroad.

Like other autocratic regimes, the report draws attention to the Modi government’s pursuit of political opponents outside its borders noting that these regimes are “increasingly and more aggressively disregarding US laws to threaten, harass, surveil, stalk, and even plot to physically harm people across the country.”

The author of the report, Yana Gorokhovskaia, explained that these regimes are promoting the idea that “people do not have the right to criticize those in power, no matter where they are in the world — not only at home but once they leave home as well.”

Under the Hindu nationalist rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has turned to authoritarianism. A 2021 report by Amnesty International showed that journalists, media outlets, and activists were “threatened and intimidated through the misuse of over-broad financial laws.” Political opposition and government critics face similar persecution, with Human Rights Watch noting these opposition voices “are accused of sedition, criminal defamation, or terrorism” and then face arbitrary detention and harassment.

The Berkley Journal of International Law details the Modi regime’s history of these violations, discussing how their attempts to silence outspoken activists, political opposition, and other voices, “by the use of force, arrests, internet shutdowns, and human rights violations” are all part of a broader pattern in Modi’s India that is “neither unprecedented nor surprising.”

Recently, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke of increasing cases of religious repression in India, stating “in India, the world’s largest democracy and home to a great diversity of faiths, we have seen rising attacks on people and places of worship.” His comments come just weeks after the Secretary declared the U.S. was closely monitoring India because of a “rise in human rights abuses by some government, police and prison officials.” Amnesty International has condemned the Modi government’s attacks on political opposition, noting they threaten the “well-being and human rights of millions.”

Bogus Red Notices; U.S. Congress Takes Hard Line

As the Washington Post explains, transnational repression is hard for any one country to fix. Organizations like Interpol are often the first port of call by the authoritarian governments, issuing “Red Notices against dissidents and exiles” as part of their intimidation and harassment campaign, and in the hope that unsuspecting governments will extradite them back to their motherland.

The U.S. Congress has had enough, and is demanding greater action from the U.S. Departments of Justice and State in the face of these tactics by autocratic regimes. U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) were successful in securing the inclusion of language in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act that requires the Attorney General and Secretary of State to ensure Interpol is not used as a vehicle by these regimes to “harass or persecute political opponents, human rights defenders, or journalists.”

Millions Seized by Devas Shareholders

Despite the Modi government’s campaign of harassment, their use of physical transnational repression and continued unlawful behavior, Devas shareholders recently announced they have $55 million of monies held by the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) that belong to the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and Air India (AI) under a seizure order.

At the time this was announced, Matthew D. McGill, stated, Devas will be relentless in its efforts to enforce our lawful international arbitral awards in courts around the world. We will not be intimidated by baseless allegations or the Government of India’s efforts to harass award holders through the use of government-controlled agencies.

Read the full story of the seizure here.