The bank accounts of human rights watchdog Amnesty International in India have been frozen, effectively stopping its work, after the government’s financial crime investigating agency carried out a 10-hour raid at the group’s Bengaluru office on Thursday.
“Amnesty India’s bank accounts have been frozen by the Enforcement Directorate, effectively stopping our work. Amnesty India is thus the latest target of the government’s assault on civil society in the country,” Amnesty India wrote on its website on Friday.
The ED searched Amnesty's Bengaluru office on suspicion that it had violated foreign direct investment guidelines and said that further investigations were ongoing.
Silencing government critics
"ED raid on Amnesty India shows a disturbing pattern of the government silencing organisations that question power," the human rights group said on Twitter on Friday. "It is clear that the government wants to instil fear among Civil Society Organisations."
“The Enforcement Directorate’s raid on our office today shows how the authorities are now treating human rights organizations like criminal enterprises, using heavy-handed methods that are commonly found in repressive states,” Aakar Patel, Amnesty International India’s Executive Director said after Thursday’s raid. “Our staff have been harassed and intimidated,” he said.
Employees were told to shut their laptops and not allowed to use their phones to call friends and families, Amnesty said, adding it fully cooperated.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's nationalist government has tightened surveillance on non-profit groups over the past four years, saying they are acting against India's interests.
Licences of thousands of foreign-funded groups, including one backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have been cancelled or suspended on charges such as misreporting of donations.
Patel said that as an organization committed to the rule of law, Amnesty's operations in India have always conformed with national regulations. “The principles of transparency and accountability are at the heart of our work. We have nothing to hide. Everything about our structure has been available in the public domain for all to see,” Patel added.
Amnesty has been regularly vocal about India of human rights violations in the restive Himalayan region of Kashmir.
“Our work in India, as elsewhere, is to uphold and fight for universal human rights. These are the same values that are enshrined in the Indian Constitution and flow from a long and rich Indian tradition of pluralism, tolerance and dissent. They are the same values that inspired the freedom struggle against colonial rule,” Patel said.
Amnesty India says over 4 million Indians have supported its work over the last six years and around 100 thousand Indians have made a financial contribution.