Amnesty International operations in India comes to a halt

Amnesty International India on Tuesday said the government had frozen all its bank accounts, leading to all of its work in the country coming to a halt.

“The complete freezing of Amnesty International India’s bank accounts by the Government of India which it came to know on September 10, 2020, brings all the work being done by the organization to a grinding halt. The organization has been compelled to let go of staff in India and pause all its ongoing campaign and research work,” a statement by the human rights organization said.

The freezing of accounts was the latest in the “witch-hunt” of human rights organisations, said by an AI official.

“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 the Delhi riots and Jammu & Kashmir. For a movement that has done nothing but raised its voices against injustice, this latest attack is akin to freezing dissent,” Amnesty International India executive director Avinash Kumar said.

“We are facing a rather unprecedented situation in India. Amnesty International India has been facing an onslaught of attacks, bullying and harassment by the government in a very systematic manner,” Rajat Khosla, the group’s senior director of research, advocacy and policy, told the BBC.

“This is all down to the human rights work that we were doing and the government not wanting to answer questions we raised, whether it’s in terms of our investigations into the Delhi riots, or the silencing of voices in Jammu and Kashmir.”

Amnesty further claimed that it stands in full compliance with all applicable Indian and international laws. For human rights work in India, it operates through a distinct model of raising funds domestically.

“More than four million Indians have supported Amnesty International India’s work in the last eight years and around 1 lakh Indians have made financial contributions. These contributions evidently cannot have any relation with the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010,” the statement added.

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 ₹ 1.69 crores 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 a reprieve. But their accounts were sealed. Last year, the CBI also registered a case based on a complaint that Amnesty International UK allegedly transferred ₹ 10 crores to Amnesty India entities as FDI without the ministry’s approval.

“Another ₹ 26 crores 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.