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Amnesty International shuts operations in India

Rights group closes its India office as it could not pay salaries after the government froze its bank accounts

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Updated: September 29, 2020 10:18 AM GMT
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Amnesty International shuts operations in India

In a move that could reflect poorly on India's pro-Hindu regime, rights group Amnesty International has announced it is halting its operations in the country.

Known for its international presence and defense of human rights against authoritarian governments, the group on Sept. 29 announced the end of its Indian operations and blamed a governmental reprisal for its decision.

"The continuing crackdown on Amnesty International India over the last two years and the complete freezing of bank accounts is not accidental," it said in a statement that announced the closure.

"The constant harassment by government agencies" including the federal government's Enforcement Directorate that probes economic offenses "is a result of our unequivocal calls for transparency in the government, more recently for accountability of the Delhi police and the government of India regarding the grave human rights violations in the Delhi riots and Jammu and Kashmir." 

Amnesty International India on Sept. 10 was told that "all its bank accounts were completely frozen" by the Enforcement Directorate, making the agency unable to take money for salaries or other expenses.

"This is latest in the incessant witch hunt of human rights organizations by the government of India over unfounded and motivated allegations," Amnesty International India said.

The group said this comes despite their complying with all applicable Indian and international laws. The freezing of the account meant all the work being done by the organization would come to "a grinding halt."

Amnesty has been compelled to let go of staff in India and pause all its ongoing campaign and research work, the statement said.

For its human rights work in India, it operates by raising funds domestically. More than four million Indians have supported Amnesty International India's work in the last eight years, and around 100,000 Indians have made financial contributions, it claimed.

"The fact that the government is now portraying this lawful fundraising model as money laundering is evidence that the overbroad legal framework is maliciously activated when human rights activists and groups challenge the government's grave inactions and excesses," it said.

Opposition Congress leaders were quick to criticize the government for the plight of the rights group.

Lawmaker and former federal minister Shashi Tharoor said government "actions like this both undermine our reputation as a democracy and vitiate our soft power."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government piloted a bill in parliament this month seeking to tighten the rules of overseas funding in a move that could adversely affect thousands of social workers, including Catholic organizations.

The government led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) brought in the amendments to the law regulating foreign funding, which critics say aims to help the government tightly monitor organizations and silence criticism.

Amnesty International sources said in 2018 a massive 10-hour-long raid was conducted by the Enforcement Directorate, a financial investigation agency under the federal Ministry of Finance.

In early 2019, the Department of Income Tax started sending investigative letters to more than 30 small regular donors.

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