Greenpeace says India barred activist from entry

Greenpeace said Monday an Australian staff member had been barred from entering India despite holding a valid visa, in what it said was the latest crackdown against the group. Aaron Gray-Block was on his way to meetings in India when immigration officials stopped him at Bangalore airport on Saturday night and put him on a flight to Kuala Lumpur without explanation, the campaign group said. His passport was seized and only returned to him once he had landed in the Malaysian capital, the environmental group said in a statement. "Our colleague has a valid business visa, and yet he was prevented from entering India with no reason given," Divya Raghunandan, programme director of Greenpeace India, said. "We are forced to wonder if all international staff of Greenpeace will now be prevented from entering the country?" Local media reports cited unnamed home ministry sources saying Gray-Block was denied entry because his name figured in an official 'black list'. But the activist said he had "not received any communication" from the government of being placed on such a list, demanding "an explanation to this". "I arrived at Bangalore Airport with a valid business visa issued by the Indian embassy in Australia... Any suggestion of wrongdoing is a farce and a smear," Gray-Block said in a statement late Monday. "There is no reason for me to be included in any blacklist," he added. Home ministry spokesman K.S. Dhatwalia, however, told AFP that officials were looking into the matter. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar defended his ministry, saying it had "nothing to do with" the incident. "We have nothing to do with that. We are not doing this. A different ministry is doing this for security of the country," Javadekar said at a press conference in New Delhi, according to the Press Trust of India. In April the right-wing government withdrew the group's foreign funding licence, citing violations of rules by opening accounts for foreign donations without informing authorities. A court last month ordered authorities to unfreeze some of Greenpeace's accounts, handing the group a lifeline after it faced closure of its local operations. Greenpeace has accused the government of waging a "malicious campaign" against it. Authorities prevented one of its campaigners in January from leaving Delhi after she was placed on a suspicious persons list. According to Indian media, a secret report by the main intelligence agency recently warned that delays to key development projects being sought by Greenpeace and other activist groups could knock up to three percentage points off India's annual growth rate. Greenpeace has been at loggerheads with the government over claims of environmental damage caused by India's heavy reliance on coal and the impact of deforestation and nuclear projects.