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India freezes Amnesty bank accounts after raid

October 26, 2018

Indian authorities searched Amnesty International's country office for 10 hours, looking for evidence of illegal foreign funds. Rights groups complain of increasing restrictions under PM Modi's nationalist government.

Screenshot of Amnesty International India website
Image: amnesty.org.in

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) said in a statement on Friday that Indian authorities raided its country office and froze its bank accounts on suspicions of violating rules on foreign funding.

"Government authorities are increasingly treating human rights organizations like criminal enterprises," Aakar Patel, AI's Indian head, said.

"Our operations in India have always conformed to our national regulations."

A spokesman for India's Home Ministry confirmed that Amnesty India's accounts had been frozen pending further investigation on foreign funding regulations.

"Action has been taken against other NGOs too who have violated these rules," the spokesman told media.

The Enforcement Directorate, a government agency that deals with financial crimes, carried out a raid at AI's Bangalore office for 10 hours on Thursday, according to local media.

In 2014, the Indian government put the operations of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) under surveillance after an official intelligence agency accused certain rights groups of campaigning against some government projects.

Nepal | BIMSTEC-Summit | Ankunft Premierminister Indien Narendra Modi
PM Modi: critics say the government's crackdown on opposition and activists has intensified in the run-up to the 2019 pollsImage: Reuters/N. Chitrakar

Rights abuses in Kashmir

It is not the first time that AI has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of targeting its operations.

In August, 2016, AI temporarily shuttered offices across India over safety concerns. The group also faced criminal charges over allegations by Hindu nationalists that it gave a platform to Kashmir secessionists.

Police also filed charges against Amnesty for "sedition" and other offenses after a BJP student wing objected to an event held in Bangalore to discuss human rights violations in the disputed region of Kashmir.

AI regularly accuses Indian authorities of committing grave human rights violations in India-administered Kashmir.

Read more: UN calls for Kashmir inquiry into alleged human rights abuses

India’s #MeToo moment?

Crackdown on activists

Since Modi came to power in 2014, India has cancelled the registration of some 15,000 NGOs under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Human rights groups say that right-wing extremism has been rising in India under the BJP rule.

Read more: Opinion: Modi's India is a bad example for Kashmiris

Modi's critics say the government's crackdown on opposition and rights activists has intensified in the run-up to the 2019 polls.

In August, Indian police launched a nationwide crackdown, arresting a number of civil society activists, including communist poet Varavara Rao, human rights lawyer Vernon Gonsalves, writer and lawyer Arun Ferreira, journalist and activist Gautam Navlakha, and trade unionist Sudha Bharadwaj.

Vigilante attacks on religious minorities have also increased in India in the past few years.

Government officials deny any wrongdoing.

Read more: Free speech 'under increasing threat' in South Asia

shs/rt   (dpa, Reuters)

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