Amnesty suspends operations in India over government ‘witch-hunt’

(Update 1: adds government statement0

New Delhi, Sep 29 (efe-epa).- Human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) announced Tuesday the suspension of all its activities in India after its bank accounts in the country were frozen by the government this month.

“On 10 September 2020 Amnesty International India came to know that all its bank accounts were completely frozen by the Enforcement Directorate bringing most of the work of the human rights organization to a grinding halt,” AI said in a statement.

Faced with a situation of “incessant witch-hunt of human rights organizations” AI underlined that it has been “compelled to let go of staff in India and pause all its ongoing campaign and research work.”

AI’s executive director in India, Avinash Kumar underlined in the statement that the “continuing crackdown on Amnesty International India over the last two years” and the complete freezing of bank accounts “is not accidental.”

He added that “the constant harassment by government agencies” was a result of recent calls for accountability of the Delhi police and the Government of India “regarding the grave human rights violations” in Indian Kashmir and the Delhi riots earlier this year.

In February, communal clashes in the capital left more than 50 people dead.

While Indian authorities blamed left-wing groups for inciting the revolt, organizations such as AI accused individuals close to the Hindu nationalist party BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, of making hate speeches, and highlighted the lack of response from the police.

At the heart of the unrest were protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, approved by the parliament in December last year, which fast tracks granting citizenship to immigrants from neighboring countries provided they are not Muslims.

Moreover, AI was also very critical of the government’s curbs on freedoms in Indian Kashmir, such as restrictions on internet, communications and movement, to avoid possible protests over the its unilateral decision to withdraw special status to the region.

While the Modi government argued that withdrawal of this special status would accelerate Kashmir’s modernization, critics see the decision as a way to alter the demographics of India’s only Muslim-majority region.

“For a movement that has done nothing but raise its voices against injustice, this latest attack is akin to freezing dissent,” said Kumar.

He concluded that the final aim of treating them as “criminals without any credible evidence” was to “to stoke a climate of fear and dismantle the critical voices in India.”

However, later on Tuesday the government rejected the nonprofit’s accusations in a statement and said that “the stand taken and the statements made by Amnesty International are unfortunate, exaggerated and far from the truth.”

The ministry of home affairs said that Amnesty had not been granted permission by the current or previous government for receiving funds from abroad, but in spite of this used indirect methods to receive “large amounts of money” through four entities registered in India, classifying the fund transfer as investment.

“This mala fide rerouting of money was in contravention of extant legal provisions,” the ministry said in a statement.

“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,” it added. EFE-EPA


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