Following ‘witch-hunt’ Amnesty International shuts India operations


FILE PHOTO: A pedestrian walks past the Amnesty International office in Bangalore on October 26, 2018. (MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images)
FILE PHOTO: A pedestrian walks past the Amnesty International office in Bangalore on October 26, 2018. (MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images)

HUMAN RIGHTS group Amnesty International on Tuesday (29) said that it stopped India operations after a two-year-long sustained ‘campaign of harassment’ by the government which culminated in freezing bank accounts.



The group said it had laid off staff after facing a crackdown over allegations of financial wrongdoing that it said were baseless. The bank accounts were frozen on September 10, it said.

“This is an egregious and shameful act by the Indian government, which forces us to cease the crucial human rights work of Amnesty International India for now. However, this does not mark the end of our firm commitment to, and engagement in, the struggle for human rights in India,” said Julie Verhaar, acting secretary general of Amnesty International.

“We are very proud of the vital work carried out by our outstanding colleagues in India regardless of the risks they faced, including their unequivocal calls for accountability for the actions of the authorities during the Delhi riots and in Jammu and Kashmir and their work on gender based violence.



The group said that it will continue to play its part within the human rights movement in India for years to come.

Prime minister Narendra Modi’s government has faced accusations that it is clamping down on dissent, including in Muslim-majority Kashmir, where insurgents have battled government forces for more than 30 years.

Opposition politician Shashi Tharoor said Amnesty’s exit was a blow.



“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,” he said on Twitter.

Critics of the organization, however, cheered its departure, posting comments on Twitter such as “good riddance” and accusing the group of turning a blind eye to hate crimes against Hindus elsewhere in the region.

The group has in the past fallen foul of Indian governments, including one run by the centrist Congress party, and this would be the fifth time it had ceased operations, its former head, Aakar Patel, said.



‘FREEZING DISSENT’

Amnesty said that this time, the federal financial crimes investigation agency, the Enforcement Directorate, had targeted it because of its work on human rights.

“The constant harassment by government agencies including the Enforcement Directorate is a result of our unequivocal calls for transparency in the government,” said Avinash Kumar, executive director of Amnesty International India.

“For a movement that has done nothing but raise its voices against injustice, this latest attack is akin to freezing dissent,” he said.

Kumar said more than four million Indians had supported Amnesty’s work in the last eight years and about 100,000 Indians had donated money.

Amnesty and other groups have accused police of complicity in the riots in Delhi in which at least 50 people were killed, most of them Muslims.

Police denied the allegation.

The government has been tightening oversight of foreign non-governmental groups (NGOs), they say.

Last year, the environmental group Greenpeace said it had to shut two offices in India and had asked many staff to leave because of a block on its bank account after accusations of illegal donations.