“Act of forgiveness for past offenses”, that’s what the world renowned organization says. Amnesty stands to protect the human rights which now hauled all its operations in India. With nearly 20,000 NGOs working for human rights being shut down, is there more than what meets the eye?
Amnesty describes the government’s campaign against non-governmental organizations, as a “witch hunt,” had made fund-raising and operating effectively impossible, the group said. If things were-to put in perspective, operating in 80 countries, Amnesty International has run-ins with the governments of Turkey and Nigeria as well, but the only other country where its office was shut was in Russia in 2016.
According to the ED case, Amnesty International India had “received foreign funds through a commercial route to the extent of Rs 36 crore’’. Out of this, Rs 10 crore had been received as long-term loan and placed in fixed deposits while an Indian entity, Indians for Amnesty International Trust, had established an overdraft facility for Rs 14.25 crore with the 10 crore as collateral, the ED had alleged.
The government case against Amnesty India broadly rests on two investigations, one alleging discrepancies under the Foreign Exchange Management Act, and another case that was registered by the CBI alleging violations under the FCRA.
Amnesty first complained of being harassed by the ED after the “10-hour-long” October 2018 raid. “Most of the information and documents that were in demand during the search were already available in the public domain or filed with the relevant government authorities,” it said.
Previous governments, including those led by the opposition Indian National Congress party, have also been accused of targeting organizations critical of their policies. Nevertheless, opposition used the moment to denounce PM Modi.
“India’s stature as a liberal democracy with free institutions, including media & civil society organizations, accounted for much of its soft power in the world, Actions like this both undermine our reputation as a democracy & vitiate our soft power”Shashi Tharoor, a Congress party politician and former diplomat
Amnesty also responds
Rajat Khosla, an Amnesty official, called the crackdown a “very worrying development.” He added that it was “also very saddening to see what is happening with the civil rights movements in India.”
Mr. Khosla said that his organization had been facing systematic intimidation by the government. It was only after an earlier court intervention that Amnesty had been temporarily able to use funds generated locally to run its operations, he added.
In recent months, the group has released reports on the complicity of the Delhi police in the March riots that killed at least 53 people, most of them Muslim.
In the past five years, the government has taken action against several foreign donors including US-based Compassion International, Ford Foundation, World Movement for Democracy (WMD), Open Society Foundations (OSF) and National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Ford Foundation was taken off its watchlist after protests from several U.S. Congressmen and the Obama administration.
The same year, the registration of Greenpeace International was cancelled on the premise that it compromised the “economic security” of the country by allegedly orchestrating protests at coal plants and at other developmental projects.
“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,” Amnesty International India executive director Avinash Kumar said.
What does the Government has to say ?
The Union Home Ministry (MHA) said Amnesty’s claims of a “witch hunt” were “far from the truth”. The Ministry said Amnesty had been given permission under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) only once, in 2000, and since denied the same despite requests, including by the UPA government. It accused Amnesty UK of circumventing the regulations by remitting large amounts of money to four entities registered in India, by classifying it as FDI.
“Amnesty is free to continue humanitarian work in India, as is being done by many other organisations. However, India, by settled law, does not allow interference in domestic political debates by entities funded by foreign donations,”The Minitry of Home Affairs
The European Union became the first international body to raise the issue through diplomatic channels. In an email responding to The Indian Express, the EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security policy in Brussels, Nabila Massrali, said, “Not prejudging the outcome of any investigation or judicial proceedings, the European Union highly values the work of Amnesty International worldwide and hopes that the matter will be resolved allowing Amnesty to continue its activities in India without interruption.”
“On the situation involving Amnesty International in India… we’ve been very, very closely following this issue, not just in the administration, but I know that our members of Congress have as well. It has received attention at the highest levels of our government,” the official said while briefing reporters on the India-U.S. relationship.
“The United States is committed to the health and vibrancy of civil society in all countries, but also especially India. We believe that the strength of civil society and the openness of society is a strength of India and it’s something that is part of what powers our cooperation, our bilateral cooperation,”a senior U.S. State Department official.