Amnesty halts India operations, cites 'incessant witch-hunt' by Government

Amnesty International on Tuesday said it is halting all its activities in India due to freezing of its accounts and claimed that it is being subjected to an “incessant witch-hunt” over unfounded and motivated allegations.

Amnesty India, in a statement, said the organisation has been compelled to let go of staff in India and pause all its ongoing campaign and research work.

“The complete freezing of Amnesty International India’s bank accounts by the Government of India which it came to know on 10 September 2020, brings all the work being done by the organization to a grinding halt,” it said.

However, the government has said that Amnesty has been receiving foreign funds illegally.

In 2018, the Enforcement Directorate had carried out searches at the headquarters of Amnesty International in Bangalore.

The raids were conducted for an alleged violation of the foreign exchange act.

The organisation claimed that the attacks on Amnesty International India and other outspoken human rights organisations, activists and human rights defenders are only an extension of the various “repressive policies and sustained assault by the government on those who speak truth to power”.

“This is the latest in the incessant witch-hunt of human rights organizations by the Government of India over unfounded and motivated allegations,” Amnesty International India said.

Amnesty International India said 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 100,000 Indians have made financial contributions,” the organisation said.

These contributions evidently cannot have any relation with the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 and the fact that the “government is now portraying this lawful fundraising model as money-laundering is evidence that the overboard legal framework is maliciously activated when human rights activists and groups challenge the government’s grave inactions and excesses”, it alleged.

“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,” Avinash Kumar, the executive director of Amnesty International India, said.

Attempt to influence probe into illegalities: MHA

The Home Ministry said Amnesty International’s statement that it was being subjected to an “incessant witch-hunt” was unfortunate, exaggerated and far from the truth.

The Union Home Ministry said all the “glossy statements” about humanitarian work and speaking truth to power are nothing but a “ploy to divert attention” from their activities which were in clear contravention of laid down Indian laws.

“Such statements are also an attempt to extraneously influence the course of investigations by multiple agencies into the irregularities and illegalities carried out over the last few years,” the home ministry said in a detailed statement.

The home ministry said that Amnesty International had received permission under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) only once and that too 20 years ago, (on December 19, 2000).

Since then the organisation, despite its repeated applications, has been denied FCRA approval by successive governments since as per law it is not eligible for it.

However, in order to circumvent the FCRA regulations, Amnesty UK remitted large amounts of money to four entities registered in India by classifying it as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

A significant amount of foreign money was also remitted to Amnesty (India) without MHA’s approval under the FCRA.

“This mala fide rerouting of money was in contravention of extant legal provisions,” it said.

Owing to these illegal practices of Amnesty, the previous government had also rejected the repeated applications of Amnesty to receive funds from overseas, the home ministry said.

This had led Amnesty to suspend its India operations once during that period as well.

The home ministry said this bipartisan and purely legal approach towards Amnesty, under different governments, makes it clear that the entire fault lies in the dubious processes adopted by Amnesty to secure funds for its operations.

“The stand taken and the statements made by Amnesty International are unfortunate, exaggerated and far from the truth,” the home ministry said.