International human rights group Amnesty International recently announced that they are halting operations in India and laying off all staff due to the Government of India freezing the organization’s bank accounts and forcing all ongoing campaigns and research work to be paused. In their statement, the organization condemned this action, calling it the latest action in a continued “witch-hunt” of human rights organizations by the Government of India.
Amnesty International’s latest investigations in the country have focused primarily on human rights abuses by state officials, reports the BBC. In a report last month, the organization said that police violated human rights during February’s deadly riots between Hindus and Muslims in New Delhi. The group has also called for the release of all detained political leaders, activists, and journalists in Kashmir, a majority Muslim region in Northern India. In 2019, Amnesty brought the NGO’s findings on arbitrary detentions and use of excessive force in the region before the U.S. Foreign Affairs Committee.
Amnesty claims that the Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has targeted the organization for years in response to these investigations, according to The New York Times. In a statement, the Indian government described the allegations as “unfortunate, exaggerated and far from the truth.” The government claims that Amnesty International has repeatedly violated local laws regulating the circumstances in which a foreign organization can receive donations from abroad, which are designed to combat money laundering by international groups. Amnesty has denied these accusations.
Fifteen additional human rights organizations have condemned the actions of the Indian government, including Human Rights Watch, according to a statement. The organizations have accused Prime Minister Modi’s government of harassing and bringing politically motivated cases against human rights defenders, student activists, activists, journalists, and others critical of the government’s actions and repressive laws towards sedition and terrorism. They also warn that these actions increasingly mimic those of authoritarian regimes, highlighted by the shuttering of Amnesty India.
This is not the first time that Amnesty International has temporarily suspended operations in the country, or that Indian authorities have taken action against the organization, reports NPR. The Indian government has long accused the group of violating foreign funding laws, dating back as far as 2009, and their bank accounts were frozen temporarily in 2018. In 2016, Amnesty India was charged with sedition for an event held in the city of Bengaluru regarding the situation in Kashmir.
Despite these setbacks, Amnesty International does not plan to stop their efforts, as Julie Verhaar, Acting Secretary General of Amnesty International, said in a statement.
“This is an egregious and shameful act by the Indian Government, which forces us to cease the crucial human rights work of Amnesty International India for now,” Verhaar said. “However, this does not mark the end of our firm commitment to, and engagement in, the struggle for human rights in India. We will be working resolutely to determine how Amnesty International can continue to play our part within the human rights movement in India for years to come.”