Amnesty says India ops shut
Stung by a multi-agency probe and the subsequent freezing of all its bank accounts in India, human rights watchdog Amnesty International said on Tuesday that it was winding up its operations in the country because of a “witch-hunt” by the government.
The complete freezing of its India bank accounts has halted all the work in which it has been engaged in the country, Amnesty International India said in a statement. “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,” said the rights group.
The home ministry, however, said in a statement that the stand taken by Amnesty International is “unfortunate, exaggerated, and far from the truth” and accused the body of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) violations, and “interference in domestic police debates” despite being funded by foreign donations.
The rights group denies the financial violations charges and says it has been in full compliance with all laws.
On October 22, 2019, Amnesty International testified at the US Congressional hearing on human rights in South Asia, with specific focus on Jammu & Kashmir after the Indian Parliament on August 5 pushed through constitutional changes that divested J&K of its special status and reorganised it into two Union territories.
This August 28, the rights group released an investigative brief on the complicity of the Delhi Police in the February communal riots that claimed the lives of at least 53 people. Delhi Police rebutted the claim, saying Amnesty’s report was “lopsided, biased and malicious”.
Amnesty has also accused the government of suppressing free speech and demanded the release of activists Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen, Sudha Bhardwaj, Surendra Gadling and others arrested in connection with the January 1, 2018, caste clashes in Bhima-Koregaon near Pune in Maharashtra. “This is the fifth time Amnesty India is being shut down. The first time was when George Fernandes led it 50 years ago,” Aakar Patel, former executive director of Amnesty India, tweeted on Tuesday. The last time the group shut its operations in India was in 2009.
The rights group is being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), since October 2018 when the agency raided its Bengaluru head office and froze its accounts because of which it had to let go of some staff at the time. In early 2019, the Income Tax department wrote to Amnesty’s office-bearers seeking certain clarifications.
In November 2019, CBI filed a case against Amnesty, alleging it received ₹36 crore in funding without the mandatory permission required under the FCRA and raided its offices. In August 2016, a sedition case was filed against the organisation that was quashed by a court last year.
Investigative agencies have alleged that the fund-raising model of Amnesty International India was in violation of FCRA that amounts to money laundering, a charge denied by the rights group.
The ministry said that Amnesty’s “glossy statements” about humanitarian work and speaking truth to power are nothing but a “ploy to divert attention” from their activities, which are in clear contravention of laid down Indian laws. Owing to illegal practices of Amnesty, the previous government had also rejected the repeated applications of Amnesty to receive funds from overseas, the home ministry said.
The government earlier this month brought in a new amendment to FCRA which disallows transfer of any foreign funds received by any non-government organisation (NGO) to any other organisation or individual.
“The continuing crackdown on Amnesty International India over the last two years and the complete freezing of bank accounts is not accidental. The constant harassment by government agencies including the 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 Delhi riots and Jammu & Kashmir. For a movement that has done nothing but raise its voice against injustice, this latest attack is akin to freezing dissent,” said Avinash Kumar, executive director of Amnesty International India.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rejected Amnesty’s allegations and said the organisation was receiving funds from abroad in contravention of the Indian laws. “The Reserve Bank of India told all banks that Amnesty should be put in the category for prior reference. Before receiving money from outside India they would need to be in the prior permission category. There has been shifty money transfer to the companies and there is suspected flow of money into the trust of the Amnesty International, the party’s national spokesperson Rajyavardhan Rathore said.