Amnesty halts operations in India; accuses government of ‘witch-hunt’

New Delhi: Eight years after establishing a national office in India and addressing critical human rights violations, Amnesty International India on Tuesday said that it has been forced to halt its operations in the country. The decision, which will see close to 150 employees lose their jobs, came after the recent move by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to freeze the organization’s accounts.

The human-rights organization cited ‘reprisal’ by the government as the reason for its exit and accused the Government of ‘incessant witch-hunt of human rights organizations.’

“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,” the statement by Amnesty International India reads.

The ED, following an FIR by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), filed on November 5, 2019, on charges of an alleged violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), had initiated a separate probe last year. The ED has now converted the preliminary inquiry into an ECIR (the equivalent of an FIR) alleging money laundering charges and froze all of the organization’s bank accounts. The ED has invoked the Prevention of Money Laundering Act this time.

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For human rights work in India, the human-rights organization claimed, 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 100,000 Indians have made financial contributions. “These contributions evidently cannot have any relation with the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010,” it said in the statement.

Amnesty linked all government action to its reports critical of the government; its recent reports had raised questions on alleged rights violations during the February Delhi riots and in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370. “For a movement that has done nothing but raise its voices against injustice, this latest attack is akin to freezing dissent,” said Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty International India.

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“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 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,” he said.

“Treating human rights organizations 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,” the Executive Director added.

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