New Delhi, 29 September 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Amnesty International said Tuesday it had suspended operations in India after its bank accounts were frozen in what the watchdog says was a government “reprisal” for critical reports.
In a statement, the rights group said it had discovered its bank accounts had been frozen on September 10.
“The complete freezing of Amnesty India‘s bank accounts by the government … brings all the work being done by the organization to a grinding halt,” it said.
The group has let go of staff in India and paused all campaign and research work in the country.
The Indian government meanwhile claims that Amnesty had illegally being receiving foreign funds, violating laws on foreign donations. It did not initially confirm the accounts had been frozen.
Amnesty denied all wrongdoing and said it had complied with all Indian and international laws, adding that the government move followed the publication of recent critical reports.
“This is the latest in the incessant witch-hunt of human rights organizations by the government of India over unfounded and motivated allegations,” Amnesty said.
It said the group’s “lawful fundraising model” was being portrayed as money laundering because it had challenged the “government’s grave inactions and excesses.”
Amnesty India has recently raised questions on alleged rights violations during sectarian riots in New Delhi in February and in India-administered Kashmir following the withdrawal of its special status last August.
“For a movement that has done nothing but raise its voices against injustice, this latest attack is akin to freezing dissent,” Amnesty India chief Avinash Kumar said.
Officials from India‘s Home Ministry denied all accusations that the group was being targeted and claimed Amnesty had failed to register under the Foreign Contribution Regulations Act (FCRA), a legal requirement for receipt of foreign funding.
This is not the first time that Amnesty India has alleged government harassment In 2018, Indian authorities raided its offices and froze its bank accounts on similar charges.
Amnesty’s offices in Bengaluru were also raided by the Central Bureau of Investigation in November last year in connection with the allegations.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) is also investigating allegations that Amnesty attempted to bypass the FCRA by floating a commercial entity, Indian media reported.
Critics say Tuesday’s developments put India‘s government on a level with Russia, the only other country to shut down Amnesty in recent years.
Rights groups, politicians and activists have criticized India‘s Hindu nationalist government of perpetuating intolerance, religious violence and curbing freedom of expression including that of writers and journalists.
“India‘s stature as a liberal democracy with free institutions, including media and civil society organizations, accounted for much of its soft power in the world. Actions like this both undermine our reputation as a democracy and vitiate our soft power,” opposition leader Shashi Tharoor said.