Amnesty International India on Tuesday, September 29, halted its India operations alleging "witch-hunt" by the Centre, a week after the Enforcement Directorate froze its bank accounts. In a statement, the watchdog stated that it was forced to lay off its staff after its bank accounts were frozen.
"This is the latest in the incessant witch-hunt of human rights organizations by the Government of India over unfounded and motivated allegations," the organisation said.
"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.
While it's unclear under what violations the watchdog committed, the rights group said that it is in full compliance of all the laws. The body further criticised the government for portraying the "lawful fundraising model as money-laundering" and stated that the country's legal framework is "maliciously activated" when human rights activists and groups challenge the government on its inactions and excesses.
"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," Kumar further said.
"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," he added.
Earlier, several civil society organisations had urged President Ram Nath Kovind not to sign the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2020, stating that it "demonises" NGOs.
The Bill was passed "without proper deliberation and consultation," said the Voluntary Action Network India (VANI), an apex body of Indian NGOs, according to a report by The Indian Express.