After 55 years of work in the country, Amnesty International’s Indian Office announced that it has decided to stop its operations due to government reprisal and the freezing of their accounts. In a statement released on September 29th, it announced that since the freezing of its bank accounts; it has been forced to stop all campaigning and research work.
The human rights watchdog has reported that consequently, it had to lay off all of its staff as well. The organization says that this action by the government is a continuation of “constant harassment” part of the “latest in the incessant witch-hunt of human rights organizations by the Government of India over unfounded and motivated allegations.” According to The Hindu, other human rights groups, such as the Ford Foundation, Greenpeace and Compassion International, have received similar sanctions from the Indian government.
Amnesty International India said in their statement that this was the government’s retaliation for increased calls for transparency made by the group. Recent examples included the group’s investigations into the role of the Delhi police and government in human rights violations in the Delhi riots. Avinash Kumar, the Executive Director of Amnesty International India said in the statement, “For a movement that has done nothing but raise its voices against injustice, this latest attack is akin to freezing dissent.”
The Ministry of Home Affairs has responded claiming that these statements are “unfortunate, exaggerated and far from the truth,” and that “all the glossy statements about humanitarian work and speaking truth to power” were a diversion from their activities violating Indian law. In India, non-government groups must have a licence to receive foreign grants and be active in the country, and Amnesty International India has been denied this licence since 2000. According to the statement released by the Ministry, Amnesty International India has been circumventing this law through a “mala fide rerouting of money.”
This is not the first time that Amnesty India and government authorities have clashed, with similar refusals around foreign donations occurring in the past, according to the Associated Press. The Amnesty International India offices were raided in 2018 due to similar charges, and in 2016, the organization faced sedition charges after Hindu nationalists opposed an event dedicated to discussing human rights violations in Kashmir. These charges were dropped three years later.
Other human rights organizations and commentators have noted that this comes at a time when many are criticizing the Indian government for cracking down on political dissenters, and raising concerns about the erosion of free speech in India, according to the Washington Post. Human Rights Watch notes that the foreign funding law the Indian government has raised charges under has been continually criticized. United Nations human rights experts have called on the government to repeal the law, claiming that it is used to “silence organizations” involved in advocacy, whose ideas may “differ from those backed by the Government.”
The loss of Amnesty International in India is extremely concerning, as the human rights organization has done much work aimed at holding the government to account and advocating for vulnerable minorities in India. NGOs play a key role in helping those disadvantaged in society, and this includes advocating for increased government transparency. A democracy cannot be at peace when those who criticize the regime are forced out by the government, and these charges raise concerns about human rights in India in the future.
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