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The Financial Express

Amnesty halts its work in India due to reprisal from Indian government

| Updated: September 29, 2020 17:06:34


Amnesty International India building in Bengaluru, Karnataka- photo source: The Times of India Amnesty International India building in Bengaluru, Karnataka- photo source: The Times of India

Amnesty International has halted its operations in India and said it had to let go of its staff after its accounts were frozen earlier this month as part of what it called a "witch-hunt" by the government over its adverse reports.

The government, however, says the global rights watchdog has been receiving foreign funds illegally and that it never registered under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, reports NDTV.

In a press statement, Amnesty said "the complete freezing of Amnesty International India's bank accounts by the government of India, which it came to know on 10 September, brings all the work being done by the organization to a grinding halt." The organisation said it had been compelled to let go of staff in India and pause all its 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," said Amnesty, claiming that it had complied with all Indian and international laws.

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.

"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 and Kashmir. 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.

Denying allegations of hounding out the rights watchdog, top government officials said Amnesty is being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate over alleged irregularities in receiving foreign funds.

According to the home ministry, the organization "got money into India through the FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) route," which is not allowed in the case of non-profits.

Amnesty India did get the government's permission to receive around ₹ 16.9 million (1.69 crore) from Amnesty UK in 2011-12. But since 2013, that permission has been denied, say sources.

In 2018, the Enforcement Directorate froze their accounts, after which Amnesty approached the court and won reprieve. But their accounts were sealed. Last year, the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) also registered a case a based on a complaint that Amnesty International UK allegedly transferred ₹ 0.1 billion (10 crore) to Amnesty India entities as FDI without the ministry's approval.

"Another ₹ 0.26 billion (26 crore) has been remitted to Amnesty (India) primarily from UK-based entities without the home ministry's approval. All such receipts have subsequently been expended on Amnesty's NGO activities in India in violation of the FCRA," the complaint states.

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