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Amnesty International halts India operations

A migrant looking through window after boarding a bus in Kolkata on May 10. (Photo: PTI). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

NEW DELHI, Sep 29, 2020, ToI. Amnesty International India on Tuesday said the complete freezing of its bank accounts by the Government of India — which the agency termed was the latest in the incessant witch-hunt of human rights organizations by the Government of India over unfounded and motivated allegations — has brought all its work to a grinding halt, The Times of India reported.

“…We came to know about the freezing of the accounts on September 10. The organisation has been compelled to let go of its staff in India and pause all its ongoing campaign and research work. This is the latest in the incessant witch-hunt of human rights organizations by the Government of India over unfounded and motivated allegations,” a statement issued by Amnesty read.

The continuing crackdown on Amnesty International India over the last two years and the complete freezing of bank accounts, it said “was not accidental”.

“The constant harassment by government agencies including the Enforcement Directorate (ED) 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 & Kashmir,” Avinash Kumar, executive director, Amnesty International India, said.
Claiming that the movement has done nothing but raise its voices against injustice, Kumar said the latest attack is akin to freezing dissent.

Amnesty further claimed that it stands in full compliance with all applicable Indian and international laws. For human rights work in India, it operates through a distinct model of raising funds domestically.

“More than four million Indians have supported Amnesty International India’s work in the last eight years and around 1 lakh Indians have made financial contributions. These contributions evidently cannot have any relation with the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010,” the statement added.

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

It added that attacks on Amnesty and other outspoken human rights organizations, activists and human rights defenders is only an extension of the various repressive policies and sustained assault by the government on those who speak truth to power.

“Treating human rights organisations like criminal enterprises and dissenting individuals as criminals without any credible evidence is a deliberate attempt by the Enforcement Directorate and Government of India to stoke a climate of fear and dismantle the critical voices in India,” Kumar said.

He added that the move reeks of fear and repression, ignores the human cost to this crackdown particularly during a pandemic and violates people’s basic rights to freedom of speech and expression, assembly, and association guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and international human rights law.

“Instead, as a global power and a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, India must fearlessly welcome calls for accountability and justice,” Kumar said.

The NGO listed what it termed the chronology of attacks and harassment by the government:

First, on October 25, 2018, Amnesty endured a 10-hour-long raid by the ED. “Most of the information and documents that were demanded during the search were already available in the public domain or filed with the relevant government authorities. The residence of a director was also raided,” it said.

Then, in early 2019, the Department of Income Tax started sending investigative letters to more than 30 small regular donors. “Apparently, the department did not find any irregularities but the process adversely affected the fundraising campaigns of Amnesty,” it said.

In June 2019, Amnesty was denied permission to hold the press conference launch in Srinagar to release its third ‘Lawless Law’ report on the misuse and abuse of Public Safety Act in Jammu and Kashmir. “We were forced to digitally release it,” it added.

“…On October 22, 2019, Amnesty testified at the US Congressional hearing on the situation of human rights in South Asia with specific focus on Jammu and Kashmir since the unilateral abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India. Two weeks after this (Nov 15) amid rumours of impending arrests of the organization’s top officials, the offices of Amnesty and the residence of one of its directors were raided again by the CBI,” the statement added.

On 13 April 2020, Amnesty called on the Uttar Pradesh Government to stop its intimidation of journalists through use of repressive laws during a pandemic. On 15 April 2020, the Cyber Crime Police Station, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh notified Twitter to furnish information about Amnesty’s Twitter account @AIIndia which the organization uses to monitor and analyse developments in international human rights law and Indian constitutional and criminal law related to human rights issues.

“Marking the first anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, Amnesty released an update on the situation of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir and on August 28, marking the six-month anniversary of the riots that took place in North-East Delhi we released an investigative brief on the complicity of Delhi police in the riots,” it added.

“…The release of the two publications has provided fresh impetus to the establishment to harass and intimidate Amnesty through its investigative agencies. Now, on September 10, 2020 Amnesty came to know that all its bank accounts were completely frozen by the ED,” it said.

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