Amnesty International has been forced to shut down operations in India and lay off all staff after the Indian government froze its bank accounts, calling it a “witch-hunt” for the organisation’s human rights advocacy.
Executive Director Avinash Kumar said in a statement that Amnesty India has been subjected to two years of “constant harassment by government agencies”.
The closure, which was decided by the Amnesty International’s board, vowed to continue advocating for human rights in India.
The Indian government did not immediately confirm it had frozen Amnesty India’s accounts, but has in the past accused the charity of taking foreign donations in breach of strict laws surrounding the funding of non-governmental organisations.
Amnesty’s director of global issues Yamini Mishra told The Independent the allegations of foreign donations were “completely not true”.
In its statement, Amnesty India said it operates “through a distinct model of raising funds domestically”, backed with financial contributions by 100,000 Indians in the past eight years.
“Our accounts have been frozen in the past as well, and every time we’ve gone to the courts and got a favourable judgement,” Ms. Mishra said. “We will fight [this]in court again, and we are hopeful.”
Amnesty has repeatedly raised concerns about the handling of the Kashmir region by Narendra Modi’s administration, including testifying to a US Congressional hearing, after the region was stripped of its statehood and special constitutional status.
And at the end of last month, Amnesty India released a lengthy report accusing the Delhi police of siding with Hindu mobs against Muslims and committing “serious human rights violations” during the February religious riots in the capital that killed at least 53 people.
The organisation was informed its accounts were being frozen less than two weeks later on 10 September, a move which means it has now been forced to let its entire Indian staff of 138 people go.
Employees were invited to apply for roles elsewhere in the international organisation, but not all have been successful.
Julie Verhaar, the acting secretary general of Amnesty International, called the freezing of Amnesty India’s accounts an “egregious and shameful act” by the Indian government.
“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,” she said in a statement.
On social media on Tuesday, some mourned Amnesty’s India exit as a blow to democracy but supporters of the government celebrated, accusing the group of turning a blind eye to hate crimes against Hindus elsewhere in the region.
Amnesty vowed to continue advocating for human rights in India, albeit from outside the country.
“Now is the moment to show international solidarity,” Ms. Mishra said, calling on those outside India to “go to the Indian embassy and sit in protest”. “We cannot quit India at a time when it needs such work the most,” she said. (Source: Independent UK)