Amnesty Worldwide to halt India operations

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By Yogita Limaye
BBC News, Mumbai

Image rightsGetty ImagesImage descriptionThe watchdog says it was forced to stop its India activities *: not ([hidden]): not (style) ~ *: not ([hidden]): not (style) {margin-top: 1rem;}]]>

Amnesty International said it had been forced to suspend operations in India because of government “reprisals”.

The watchdog has also accused the government of indulging in a “witch hunt on human rights organizations”.

According to Amnesty, bank accounts have been frozen, staff in the country have been laid off and all campaigning and research have been suspended.

The government has yet to respond to these allegations.

“We are faced with an unprecedented situation in India. Amnesty International India has faced an onslaught of attack, bullying and harassment from the government in a very systematic manner,” said Rajat Khosla, senior director of research, advocacy and policy for the group told the BBC.

“All of this is due to the human rights work we have done and the government did not want to answer the questions we raised, be it about our investigation into the riots in Delhi or the silence of the voices in Jammu and Kashmir.”

In a report released last month, the group said police committed human rights violations in the Indian capital Delhi in February during the deadly religious riot between Hindus and Muslims.

Delhi police denied the allegations, telling the Hindu newspaper that Amnesty’s report was “one-sided, biased and malicious”.

In early August, on the first anniversary of the revocation of the special status of Indian-administered Kashmir, Amnesty called for the release of all detained political leaders, activists and journalists and the resumption of high-speed internet services in the region.

In 2019, the watch dog testified before the U.S. Foreign Affairs Committee during a hearing on human rights in South Asia, where he highlighted his findings on arbitrary detention and the use of excessive violence and torture in Kashmir.

Media signatureRiots in Delhi: “Nobody who saw the photo thought I would survive.”

Amnesty has also repeatedly condemned what it means to be a crackdown on dissent in India.

The group, which has been audited by various government agencies over the past few years, said the freeze on their bank accounts earlier this month was the last straw.

In August 2016, Amnesty India was rioted on allegations that anti-India slogans had been raised at one of its events. Three years later, a court ordered the charges to be terminated.

In October 2018, the group’s offices in the southern city of Bangalore were raided by the enforcement agency investigating financial crimes. The accounts were also frozen at the time, but Amnesty says it was able to access them after petitioning a court of law.

In early 2019, the group said, dozens of their small donors received letters from the country’s income tax department. And later that year, Amnesty’s offices were raided again, this time by the Central Bureau of Investigation, based on a case registered by the Indian Ministry of the Interior.

Image rightsGetty ImagesImage descriptionIndia has had a close relationship with Kashmir for decades

Successive governments in India have been wary of foreign-funded nonprofits, particularly human rights organizations.

Amnesty had previously ceased operations in India in 2009 because the group repeatedly refused its license to receive funds from overseas. India was then ruled by a Congress-led government that is now in opposition.

Over the years, the rules for receiving foreign funds have been tightened and thousands of nonprofits have been banned from receiving funds from overseas.

The current government has previously stated that Amnesty has been investigated on suspicion that the group is violating Indian laws related to foreign funding.

“That is an obvious lie. Amnesty India fully complies with all national and international legal requirements,” Khosla told the BBC.

The group’s announcement comes amid growing concerns over the state of freedom of speech in India. The development, say activists, could damage India’s longstanding reputation as a thriving democracy.

“India is not in good company with these measures. We operate in over 70 countries, and the only other country where we were previously forced to cease operations was Russia in 2016,” says Khosla. “I hope people all over the world sit up and take note. We do this with a very heavy heart and a deep sense of fear and sadness.”

The group says it will continue to fight its legal cases in India.

Related topics

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  • India
  • Asia
  • Amnesty International

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