Amnesty India's operations halted by Indian Government, nearly 150 to lose jobs

Amnesty India's operations halted by Indian Government, nearly 150 to lose jobs

September 29: Operations of Amnesty International, a non-governmental organization which investigate human rights violations on a global scale with over 7 million supporters, has been halted in India by the Enforcement Directorate, the financial crime investigative agency of the Government of India, due to alleged money laundering charges and claiming that it was not registered under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.

Julie Verhaar, Acting Secretary-General of Amnesty International stated, “This is an egregious and shameful act by the Indian Government, which forces us to cease the crucial human rights work of Amnesty International India for now. However, this does not mark the end of our firm commitment to, and engagement in, the struggle for human rights in India. We will be working resolutely to determine how Amnesty International can continue to play our part within the human rights movement in India for years to come."

Amnesty has been under the government's radar for quite some time. Previously, a similar incident had occurred on 25 October 2018, when the NGO's India branch had its bank accounts frozen and their country office in Bangalore raided by officers of the ED.

Currently, the global human rights watchdog had been working on "accountability for the actions of the authorities during the Delhi riots and in Jammu and Kashmir and their work on gender-based violence".  

Verhaar states, “It is a dismal day when a country of India’s stature, a rising global power and a member of the UN Human Rights Council, with a constitution which commits to human rights and whose national human rights movements have influenced the world, so brazenly seeks to silence those who pursue accountability and justice. As many of our colleagues have lost their jobs this week thanks to the actions of the Government of India, we will look for ways to continue our support to them as we continue to call on the Government to end its shameful crackdown on those who stand up for human rights of Indians.”

Amnesty sent out a press release that reads:

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.  The organisation has been compelled to let go of staff in India and pause all its ongoing campaign and research work. This is latest in the incessant witch-hunt of human rights organizations by the Government of India over unfounded and motivated allegations, Amnesty International India said today.

“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 & 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 India.

Amnesty International India 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. 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.

The attacks on Amnesty International India and other outspoken human rights organizations, activists and human rights defenders is only an extension of the various repressive policies and sustained assault by the government on those who speak truth to power. “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.  It reeks of fear and repression, ignores the human cost to this crackdown particularly during a pandemic and violates people’s basic rights to freedom of speech and expression, assembly, and association guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and international human rights law. Instead, as a global power and a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, India must fearlessly welcome calls for accountability and justice,” said Avinash Kumar.

As part of the Nobel Prize winning movement, Amnesty International India holds itself to the highest evidentiary standards. Our work in India, as elsewhere, is to uphold universal human rights and build a global movement of people who take injustice personally. These are the same values that are enshrined in the Constitution of India and flow from a long and rich Indian tradition of pluralism, tolerance and peaceful dissent.

———

BACKGROUND:

CHRONOLOGY OF ATTACKS AND HARASSMENT OF AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL INDIA:

On 25 October 2018, Amnesty International India endured a 10-hour-long raid as a group of officers from the Enforcement Directorate (ED), a financial investigation agency under the Ministry of Finance, entered its premises and locked the gates behind them. Most of the information and documents that were demanded during the search were already available in the public domain or filed with the relevant government authorities. The residence of a Director was also raided.

Immediately after the raid, the bank accounts were also frozen by the ED. As a result, Amnesty International India was forced to let go of a number of its staff, adversely affecting its work in India including with the marginalised communities. Despite the ongoing investigations and before the framing of charges, the Government of India started a smear campaign against Amnesty International India in the country through selective leaking of documents gathered by the ED, to government-aligned media outlets. This resulted in a malicious media trial against the organization.

In early 2019, the Department of Income Tax started sending investigative letters to more than 30 small regular donors. Apparently, the department did not find any irregularities but the process adversely affected the fundraising campaigns of Amnesty International India.

In June 2019, Amnesty International India was denied permission to hold the press conference launch in Srinagar to release its third ‘Lawless Law’ report on the misuse and abuse of Public Safety Act in Jammu and Kashmir. It was forced to digitally release it.

On 22 October 2019, Amnesty International testified at the US Congressional hearing on the situation of human rights in South Asia with specific focus on Jammu and Kashmir since the unilateral abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India.

On 15 November 2019, two weeks after the testimony and amid rumours of impending arrests of the organizations top officials, the offices of Amnesty International India and the residence of one of its directors were raided again by the CBI. The raids were conducted on the basis of a First Information Report filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs over unsubstantiated allegations of suspected violations of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. It suggested investigations be launched under other laws like the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

On 13 April 2020, Amnesty International India called on the Uttar Pradesh Government to stop its intimidation of journalists through use of repressive laws during a pandemic. On 15 April 2020, the Cyber Crime Police Station, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh notified Twitter to furnish information about Amnesty International India’s Twitter account @AIIndia which the organization uses to monitor and analyse developments in international human rights law and Indian constitutional and criminal law related to human rights issues.

On 5 August 2020, marking the first anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, Amnesty International India released an update on the situation of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir.

On 28 August 2020, marking the six-month anniversary of the riots that took place in North-East Delhi in February 2020, Amnesty International India released an investigative brief on the complicity of Delhi police in the riots which claimed the lives of at least 53 people, mostly from the minority Muslim community.

The release of the two publications has provided fresh impetus to the establishment to harass and intimidate Amnesty International India through its investigative agencies.

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.

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