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Amnesty: India Intimidating Rights Groups

Banners are seen outside of Amnesty International's office in Bangalore, India, Oct. 26, 2018.
Banners are seen outside of Amnesty International's office in Bangalore, India, Oct. 26, 2018.

A day after Indian authorities conducted raids on the offices of Amnesty International in India, the human rights monitor group accused the government of treating rights groups like “criminal enterprises” and wanting to instill fear in civil society organizations.

The offices of Amnesty in the southern city of Bangalore were searched for over 10 hours on Thursday on suspicion that it has violated foreign funding regulations.

Amnesty said that Indian authorities have frozen its bank accounts.

The Enforcement Directorate, which investigates financial crime, conducted the raids on suspicion that Amnesty in India has breached rules by establishing a commercial enterprise to bring in money from overseas. In a press release, it said that it believed the group had received $4.8 million in foreign funding without permission.

Indian authorities say it will take three months to conduct the investigation into alleged funding violations.

In a statement, Amnesty said it was compliant with government rules. “As an organization committed to the rule of law, our operations in India have always conformed with our national regulations. The principles of transparency and accountability are at the heart of our work,” Aakar Patel, the head of the group in India said.

Amnesty said its staff was ordered to remain inside the office, shut their laptops and not use their mobile phones during the search. Patel called the raid part of a “disturbing pattern.”

Two weeks ago, the offices of environmental group Greenpeace were raided. The group has faced scrutiny since 2015 over alleged financial irregularities.

Several small and big nongovernmental groups have come under fire and faced tighter financial scrutiny since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in 2014 - the politically conservative government has canceled the registration of over 10,000 foreign funded groups.

Political analyst with the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, Satish Misra, said that “if the law of the land has been flouted or misused, action would be justified, but the action has to be transparent, it has to be credible.”

He points out that Modi’s government, which has pushed a nationalistic agenda, has been suspicious of foreign-funded voluntary organizations and has openly projected its position that it will go “hammer and tongs against all elements including foreign organizations, which work against national interest.”

Amnesty has been putting the spotlight of what is a sensitive issue for the Indian government - human rights violations in the restive Kashmir region, where India is battling a separatist insurgency. New Delhi strongly denies such violations. The rights monitoring group has also criticized what it says are rising attacks against minorities since the Hindu nationalist government came to power.

In 2016, three United Nations rapporteurs urged India to repeal a foreign funding law called the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act saying it is being increasingly used to obstruct civil society’s access to foreign funding.