What does shutting of Amnesty International mean for India? Why was the organisation under radar?

Amnesty International halted its operations in India due to continuous government crackdown over the last few years.

Amnesty International on Tuesday halted its operations in India as its bank accounts have been frozen on the allegations of money laundering and suspected violations of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. The human rights organisation has also accused the government of indulging in a “witch-hunt of human rights organisations.”

According to Amnesty international’s statement, the organisation was forced to lay off its staff in the country, and suspend all its campaign and research work. The organisation claimed its bank accounts have been completely frozen by the Indian government, of which the organisation was notified on September 10, bringing its ongoing work to a grinding halt. The government is yet to respond to allegations.

The Indian enforcement directorate (ED), an agency that investigates economic crimes, froze the accounts of Amnesty’s Indian arm this month after the group published two reports highly critical of the government’s human rights record.

Amnesty believes that the government had sought to punish the Indian arm of the organisation because the group called for accountability of the Delhi Police in the February 2020 riots and the Centre over violations of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir. The organisation said that the government is retaliating by constantly cracking down on its monetary assets.

Why Amnesty International shuts down in India?

After a successful run in India addressing several crucial human rights violations amid growing hostility, Amnesty International (AI) India has decided to shut its operations in the country. The decision came after the recent move by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to freeze the organisation’s accounts.

The ED, following an FIR by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), filed on November 5, 2019, on charges of an alleged violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), had initiated a separate probe last year. The ED has now converted the preliminary inquiry into an ECIR (the equivalent of an FIR) alleging money laundering charges and froze all of AI India’s bank accounts. The ED has invoked the Prevention of Money Laundering Act this time.

“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,” said Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty International India. He further added, “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 is being believed that Amnesty’s departure from India will illustrate the shrinking space for dissent in the country, where critics of the government face investigation.

What does Amnesty International do?

Amnesty International is a non-governmental organisation working for the protection of human rights. It was originally started in 1961 with the aim of obtaining amnesty for prisoners of conscience all over the world. Gradually they realized that the number of prisoners of conscience was enormous and they were to be found in every part of the world.

(Photo credit: Time Magazine)

Amnesty International is a world-embracing movement working for the protection of human rights. It is independent of all governments and works for the release of women and men who have been arrested for their convictions, the colour of their skin, their ethnic origin or their faith. It uncovers the facts about violations and breaches of human rights.

Amnesty in India:

Amnesty has repeatedly condemned what it says is a crackdown on dissent in India. The organisation last month released a report that said, “Police in the National Capital Region committed human rights violations.” Similarly, in early August, it released a report on the first anniversary of the revocation of Indian-administered Kashmir’s special status and called for the release of detained political leaders and journalists.  

Amnesty International in India has launched many campaigns in order to raise awareness against gender-based violence, and have worked for the Adivasi community. It also raised a campaign to establish recognition for human education, justice for the survivors of 1984 Sikh Massacre, and many more.

Amnesty International India’s campaign to spread awareness against gender violence (Photo credit: Amnesty International India)

It is being observed that this crackdown on the human rights organisations and also on many activists has increased during this coronavirus pandemic as courts are partly working and also mass gathering is banned.

The clash between Amnesty and Various government agencies including Enforcement Directorate:

The organisation has come under scrutiny by various government agencies over the past few years. Successive governments in India have always been cautious of foreign-funded non-profit, particularly human rights organisations. However, this freezing of Amnesty’s account was the final move by the government.

In August 2016, a case of sedition was filed against Amnesty India over allegations that anti-India slogans were raised at one of its events. Three years later, a court ordered that the charges against the organisation should be dropped.

In October 2018, the group’s offices in the southern city of Bangalore were raided by the ED. Then also, ED froze the accounts of the human rights group, but that was not much of a problem because AI India was able to access its accounts after seeking the court’s intervention in the case.

In early 2019, the group claimed that dozens of its small donors were sent letters by the country’s income tax department. The organisation is largely dependent on donations and therefore, this activity by the income tax department somewhere or the other affected the functioning of the group.

In the same year, Amnesty’s offices were raided again by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The case was registered by India’s home affairs ministry. The case was based on the allegations against the organisation regarding violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).

In 2009 also, Amnesty has suspended its operations in India, when the country was run by a Congress-led government. The organisation was suspended because the government then many times rejected their licence to receive funds from overseas. 

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