Amnesty International India’s Operations Halted

Amnesty International India (hereinafter referred to as Amnesty) released a press statement yesterday stating that its bank accounts were frozen by the Government of India, leading to a complete halt of its operations in the country. The organization has been forced to let go of its staff in India. The statement further mentioned that this incident is the “latest in the incessant witch-hunt of human rights organizations by the Government of India over unfounded and motivated allegations”.

Amnesty’s Complaint:

Amnesty’s India operations fully comply with all applicable Indian and international laws. The human rights work by Amnesty in India is done by raising funds from domestic residents. Over the last eight years, around 100,000 Indians have contributed financially towards Amnesty’s work. This does not have any relation with the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 (FCRA). The Government’s accusation of money-laundering is unfounded.

The Enforcement Directorate and the Government of India is trying to instill a climate of fear and shut down dissent by “treating human rights organizations like criminal enterprises and dissenting individuals as criminals without any credible evidence.”

Harassment of Amnesty by the Government of India has been ongoing for the past couple of years. Amnesty was subjected to a 10-hour long raid by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) under the Ministry of Finance on October 25, 2018. One of the Director’s residence was raided, and the bank accounts of Amnesty was frozen in the aftermath of the raids. Even before charges were framed, a smear campaign was led by the Government by selectively leaking documents gathered by ED to government-aligned media outlets.

In 2019, the Department of Income Tax had sent investigative letters to 30 regular donors of Amnesty, thereby intimidating them and delaying the fund-raising ability of Amnesty. On November 15, 2019, two weeks after Amnesty’s testimony at the US Congressional hearing on human rights in South Asia, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided the offices of Amnesty and the residence of one of its Directors. The raids were conducted after the Home Ministry filed an FIR against Amnesty by accusing it of violating the FCRA, even though there were unfounded allegations.

After Amnesty released an update on the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir, along with the investigative brief on Delhi police’s complicity in the communal riots, the Government seems to have upped its harassment of Amnesty through its investigative agencies. On September 10, 2020, Amnesty realized that its bank accounts were frozen, leading to the complete halt of its operations in India.

Government’s Defense:

The Ministry of Home Affairs has issued a strong rebuttal to Amnesty’s accusations. The full statement is reproduced below:

“The stand taken, and the statements made by Amnesty International are unfortunate, exaggerated and far from the truth. The facts of the matter are as follows: Amnesty International had received permission under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) only once and that too twenty years ago (19.12.2000). Since then Amnesty International, despite its repeated applications, has been denied FCRA approval by successive governments since as per law it is not eligible to get such an approval.

However, in order to circumvent the FCRA regulations, Amnesty UK remitted large amounts of money to four entities registered in India, by classifying it as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). A significant amount of foreign money was also remitted to Amnesty (India) without MHA’s approval under FCRA. This mala fide rerouting of money was in contravention of extant legal provisions.

Owing to these illegal practices of Amnesty, the previous government had also rejected the repeated applications of Amnesty to receive funds from overseas. This had led Amnesty to suspend its India operations once during that period as well. This bipartisan and purely legal approach towards Amnesty, under different governments, makes it clear that the entire fault lies in the dubious processes adopted by Amnesty to secure funds for its operations.

All the glossy statements about humanitarian work and speaking truth to power are nothing but a ploy to divert attention from their activities which were in clear contravention of laid down Indian laws. Such statements are also an attempt to extraneously influence the course of investigations by multiple agencies into the irregularities and illegalities carried out over the last few years.

Amnesty is free to continue humanitarian work in India, as is being done by many other organizations. However, India, by settled law, does not allow interference in domestic political debates by entities funded by foreign donations. This law applies equally to all and it shall apply to Amnesty International as well. India has a rich and pluralistic democratic culture with a free press, independent judiciary and tradition of vibrant domestic debate. The people of India have placed unprecedented trust in the current government. Amnesty’s failure to comply with local regulations does not entitle them to make comments on the democratic and plural character of India.”