Amnesty International has decided to halt its India operations alleging ‘incessant witch-hunt’ by the Indian government. The noted human rights body said that the Indian government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi had frozen its bank accounts, making it impossible for Amnesty International to retain its staff in India.
A statement by Amnesty read, “The complete freezing of Amnesty International India’s bank accounts by the Government of India which it came to know on 10 September 2020, brings all the work being done by the organization to a grinding halt. The organisation has been compelled to let go of staff in India and pause all its ongoing campaign and research work. This is latest in the incessant witch-hunt of human rights organizations by the Government of India over unfounded and motivated allegations.”
Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty International India, said that the ‘continuing crackdown on Amnesty International India over the last two years and the complete freezing of bank accounts’ were not accidental. He said, “The constant harassment by government agencies including the Enforcement Directorate 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 Delhi riots and Jammu & Kashmir. For a movement that has done nothing but raise its voices against injustice, this latest attack is akin to freezing dissent.”
According to Amnesty, more than four million Indians have supported its work in the last eight years and around ‘100,000 Indians have made financial contributions.’ “These contributions evidently cannot have any relation with the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010. 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,” the statement said.
The human rights body outlined the chronology of events involving the Indian government agencies in the last two years.
On 25 October 2018, Amnesty International India endured a 10-hour-long raid as a group of officers from the Enforcement Directorate (ED), a financial investigation agency under the Ministry of Finance, entered its premises and locked the gates behind them. 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.
Immediately after the raid, the bank accounts were also frozen by the ED. As a result, Amnesty International India was forced to let go of a number of its staff, adversely affecting its work in India including with the marginalised communities. Despite the ongoing investigations and before the framing of charges, the Government of India started a smear campaign against Amnesty International India in the country through selective leaking of documents gathered by the ED, to government-aligned media outlets. This resulted in a malicious media trial against the organization.
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 International India.
In June 2019, Amnesty International India 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. It was forced to digitally release it.
On 22 October 2019, Amnesty International 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.
On 15 November 2019, two weeks after the testimony and amid rumours of impending arrests of the organizations top officials, the offices of Amnesty International India and the residence of one of its directors were raided again by the CBI. The raids were conducted on the basis of a First Information Report filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs over unsubstantiated allegations of suspected violations of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. It suggested investigations be launched under other laws like Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
On 13 April 2020, Amnesty International India 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 International India’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.
On 5 August 2020, marking the first anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, Amnesty International India released an update on the situation of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir.
On 28 August 2020, marking the six-month anniversary of the riots that took place in North-East Delhi in February 2020, Amnesty International India released an investigative brief on the complicity of Delhi police in the riots which claimed the lives of at least 53 people, mostly from the minority Muslim community.
The release of the two publications has provided fresh impetus to the establishment to harass and intimidate Amnesty International India through its investigative agencies.
On 10 September 2020 Amnesty International India came to know that all its bank accounts were completely frozen by the Enforcement Directorate bringing most of the work of the human rights organization to a grinding halt.