Amnesty International India announced on Tuesday that it is halting its operations in the country as its accounts have been frozen due to “incessant witch-hunt by the government” ending its eight-year run in India.
In a statement, the global human rights organisation said that it came to know about the “ complete freezing of its bank accounts by the Government of India on September 10 2020’ which brought all the to a grinding halt, compelled the organisation to let go of staff in India and pause all its ongoing campaign and research work.
“The continuing crackdown on Amnesty International India over the last two years and the complete freezing of bank accounts is not accidental,” Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty International India in the statement.
Kumar, the current executive director of the organisation took over a year ago, after his predecessor, journalist Aakar Patel’s tenure, that started in June 2015, ended. On October 25, 2018. ED conducted a raid at Amnesty International India’s office in Bengaluru. The residence of its then head Patel was also raided on that day.
“This is the fifth time Amnesty India is being shut down. The first time was when George Fernandes led it 50 years ago,” Patel said in a tweet on Tuesday.
Earlier this month, Patel was booked over a defamation complaint filed against him over a tweet on the Ghanchi community. The complaint was filed by Purnesh Modi, a BJP MLA from Surat City (West) in Gujara. The complaint said that Patel had on June 24 and June 27 tweeted on the Ghanchi community, to which Purnesh belongs, purportedly connecting it to the Sabarmati train carnage in Godhra on February 27, 2002.
Patel, who hails from Surat and now based in Bengaluru, got anticipatory bail from the Surat Sessions court in the case registered by the Surat Crime Branch under IPC Sections 153 (A) (promoting enmity between different groups), 295 (A) (intent to insult a class of people), 505(1), (b), (c) (public statement intent to cause fear among public) and 499 and 500 (defamation)
The decision, which will see close to 150 employees lose their jobs, came after the recent move by the Enforcement Directorate to freeze the organisation’s accounts.
“For a movement that has done nothing but raise its voices against injustice, this latest attack is akin to freezing dissent,” Kumar said.
The ED has started a separate probe into the matter, after an FIR was lodged by by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in November 2019 on charges of an alleged violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). The Agency had invoked the Prevention of Money Laundering Act this time against the organisation.
The statement said that, the organisation 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, it said.
“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 over broad legal framework is maliciously activated when human rights activists and groups challenge the government’s grave inactions and excesses,” it said.
On August 28 this year, 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 alleged complicity of Delhi Police in the riots which claimed the lives of at least 53 people.The ED had in July last year served a show-cause notice to Amnesty for alleged contravention of funding worth Rs 51.72 Crore.