NEW DELHI - Amnesty International says it is halting its operations in India after the government froze its bank accounts. The group says the action was part of an “incessant witch hunt of human rights organizations.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Amnesty said it has been compelled to lay off its staff in India and “pause all its campaign and research work” after it learned its accounts had been frozen over allegations of financial wrongdoing. It called the charges baseless, saying it has complied with all Indian laws.
The government has not commented on the development, but has said in the past that the rights watchdog was being investigated for alleged violation of Indian laws regarding foreign funding.
Amnesty said it is being targeted because it demanded accountability for human rights violations in the country.
“The continuing crackdown on Amnesty International India over the last two years and the complete freezing of bank accounts is not accidental,” said Avinash Kumar, executive director of Amnesty International India.
In two recent reports, Amnesty alleged that police in New Delhi committed human rights violations during deadly Hindu-Muslim riots that shook the Indian capital in February.
The group also called on the government to release political leaders, activists and journalists detained in Indian Kashmir after the area’s special status was scrapped last August.
This is not the first time the group has seen its finances put on hold.
In 2018, Amnesty’s bank accounts in India were frozen following a raid by a financial crimes unit. A court order later restored access. Amnesty’s offices were raided again the following year.
The group was also accused of sedition in 2016 but a court later ordered that charges be dropped.
“For a movement that has done nothing but raise its voices against injustice, this latest attack is akin to freezing dissent,” said Kumar, in a statement.
The Amnesty announcement comes as critics accuse Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of becoming increasingly intolerant of criticism.
An opposition lawmaker, Shashi Tharoor, said the exit of Amnesty would hurt the country, tweeting: “India’s stature as a liberal democracy with free institutions, including media & civil society organizations, accounted for much of its soft power in the world. Actions like this both undermine our reputation as a democracy & vitiate our soft power.”
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. https://t.co/6tNCnC37OW— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) September 29, 2020
Suspicion of international organizations, particularly human rights groups, is not new in India. In 2009, when India was ruled by a different party, Amnesty temporarily halted its operations in the country, saying its license to receive funds from overseas was rejected. Modi's government recently passed a law restricting the use of overseas money by such groups.