Amnesty suspends India operations due to govt 'witch-hunt'
Amnesty's director says New Delhi is trying to silence critical voices
Amnesty International has suspended its Indian operations after its bank accounts were frozen in what it called a government "witch-hunt" against rights groups. Government critics within civil society organisations and the media have long complained of harassment in the world's biggest democracy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu-nationalist administration, something which it denies. Amnesty said that as of earlier this month it could no longer access its bank accounts in India, forcing it to let go of staff and "pause" all 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," it said in a statement. It said the freezing of its accounts was "no accident" after it issued a series of reports alleging "grave human rights violations" by police in deadly sectarian riots in New Delhi in February, and by security forces in India-held Kashmir. "Treating human rights organisations like criminal enterprises and dissenting individuals as criminals without any credible evidence is a deliberate attempt... to stoke a climate of fear and dismantle the critical voices in India," said Avinash Kumar, Amnesty India's executive director. But the government on Tuesday accused Amnesty of "illegal practices" involving the transfer of "large amounts of money" from Amnesty UK to India, something which also created problems with the previous administration. "This bipartisan and purely legal approach towards Amnesty, under different governments, makes it clear that the entire fault lies in the dubious processes adopted by Amnesty to secure funds for its operations," it said. "All the glossy statements about humanitarian work and speaking truth to power are nothing but a ploy to divert attention from their activities which were in clear contravention of laid down Indian laws." But India's opposition criticised the government. "India's stature as a liberal democracy with free institutions, including media & civil society organisations, accounted for much of its soft power in the world. Actions like this both undermine our reputation as a democracy & vitiate our soft power," Shashi Tharoor from the Congress party tweeted. David Griffiths from Amnesty's head office in London said the group intended to fight the government via legal means. "We have nothing to hide. We invite the government to show us the evidence and to bring charges against us so that we can defend it in court," Griffiths told AFP.
Russia with loveLike in Russia under President Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orban's Hungary, Modi's government has sought to pressure rights groups by heavily scrutinising their finances and clamping down on foreign funding, critics say. In 2015, the year after Modi took office, the Indian government froze the bank accounts of environmental organisation Greenpeace's India unit. In 2018 the Enforcement Directorate, which investigates financial crimes in India, raided Amnesty's office in Bangalore and selectively leaked documents to the media, Amnesty said. This year, the Indian tax department also started sending "investigative letters" to more than 30 small regular donors, the group said. Last week parliament passed legislation that, critics say, limits the access of smaller civil society organizations to foreign funding while imposing onerous bureaucratic red tape. Journalists critical of the government also complain of increased harassment both on social media -- where Modi's ruling party has a powerful presence -- and in the real world.
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