New Delhi: International rights organisation, Amnesty International, on Tuesday said it is going to halt its India operations, alleging “witch-hunt” by the Narendra Modi government that has frozen its accounts.
“This is the fifth time Amnesty India is being shut down. The first time was when George Fernandes led it 50 years ago,” tweeted Aakar Patel, former head of Amnesty India.
This is the fifth time Amnesty India is being shut down. The first time was when George Fernandes led it 50 years ago. https://t.co/5TnETk2uyL
— Aakar Patel (@Aakar__Patel) September 29, 2020
An NDTV report , citing Home Ministry sources, however, alleged that the global rights organisation was under probe for receiving foreign funds illegally and that it had never registered itself under the FCRA or the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.
Amnesty International, in a press statement, denied the allegations and accused the Indian government fo fressing its accounts over some “adverse reports” brought out by the organisation.
"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, adding that it had complied with all Indian and international laws.
Linking the government action to its some of its reports critical of the government, it cited its recent reports on alleged rights violations during the Delhi violence and one on 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
“The constant harassment by govt agencies is a result of our unequivocal calls for transparency, more recently for accountability of the Delhi police & Govt of India regarding grave human rights violations in Delhi riots and J&K,” - @Avinash_1_Kumar, Executive Director, @AIIndia
— Amnesty India (@AIIndia) September 29, 2020
“The constant harassment by govt agencies is a result of our unequivocal calls for transparency, more recently for accountability of the Delhi police & Govt of India regarding grave human rights violations in Delhi riots and J&K,” Amnesty India tweeted.
Amnesty said due to “complete freezing” of its bank accounts, which it came to know on September 10, 2020, has forced it to halt its work in India , compelling it “to let go of staff in India and pause all its ongoing campaign and research work.”
The organisation claimed it was 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 100,000 Indians have made financial contributions. These contributions evidently cannot have any relation with the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010. The fact that the Government is now portraying this lawful fundraising model as money-laundering is evidence that the overbroad legal framework is maliciously activated when human rights activists and groups challenge the government’s grave inactions and excesses,” its press statement read.
Commenting on crackdown on dissent in the country, Avinah Kumar said: “Treating human rights organisations like criminal enterprises and dissenting individuals as criminals without any credible evidence is a deliberate attempt by the Enforcement Directorate and Government of India to stoke a climate of fear and dismantle the critical voices in India.”
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. https://t.co/6tNCnC37OW
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) September 29, 2020
Commenting on the action by the government at a time when questions are being raised over dissent, free speech and democracy, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted: “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.”
Amnesty-Linked Pvt Firm Under ED Probe: Govt Sources
There is no ED investigation against Amnesty International India Foundation, which on Tuesday declared halting its operations in the country, but against a private company linked to the NGO that allegedly received dubious export proceeds worth over Rs 51 crore, government sources said, according to a PTI report.
They said the ED was investigating two entities -- Amnesty International India Pvt Ltd and Indians for Amnesty International Trust.
Both are being probed under the criminal sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and under the civil proceedings of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), they said.
The agency had issued a show-cause notice to Amnesty International India Pvt Ltd last September for alleged contravention of FEMA to the tune of over Rs 51 crore.
"Amnesty International India Pvt Ltd has allegedly received export proceed of Rs 51.72 crore during financial year 2013-14 to 2018-19 from Amnesty International, UK."
"Investigation proved that no services were exported and the amounts so received were in contravention to the provisions of the FEMA and PMLA," a senior officer said.
The contravention has led to "freezing" of balance deposit in the bank accounts of Amnesty India International Pvt Ltd and Indians for Amnesty International Trust, the officer said.
Sources said this freezing order was challenged by the two entities before the Karnataka High Court and the ED order was upheld by the court.
"No other fund except for alleged export proceeds received from Amnesty International,UK is under investigation or freezing under the law," the officer said.
(inputs from PTI)