Amnesty International in a press statement on September 29th, 2020, announced its decision to halt its India operations due to “reprisals” from the government. The human rights body has accused the government of indulging in a “witch-hunt,” and says its bank accounts have been completely frozen, which forced it to suspend all its work in India. A GroundXero report.
Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s animosity and hatred towards human right organizations and activists working in India is no secret, given their active role in indicting and exposing his government’s complicity in the communal riots in Gujarat during his Chief Ministership. As he became Prime Minister in 2014, and carried forward the Hindutva nationalist agenda, the contradictions with human right groups and activists sharpened further. Economic Times, in a report published on Feb 21, 2016, quoted the Prime Minister Narendra Modi as saying that he is a victim of a conspiracy by non-governmental organizations, who have always wanted to “finish” him and remove his government. While addressing a farmers’ rally in western Odisha’s Bargarh district, Narendra Modi said, “They are also upset because I told a few NGOs to give us an account of the foreign funds that they spend here. They ganged up and said ‘beat Modi, beat Modi, he’s asking us for an account of our expenditure’.” Comparing the NGOS to black marketeers, the PM further said, “They conspire from morning to night on ‘how do we finish Modi, how do we remove his government, how do we embarrass Modi?’ But my friends, you have voted me to rid the country of these diseases.”
So, to get rid of ‘these’ diseases, Narendra Modi’s government has used the state machinery at its command – the ED, CBI, Income tax department, the crony-media and recently has even amended the FCRA act to make it impossible for the NGOs, particularly human rights and environmental groups, who are critical of his government’s policies, to function in India. It is strange that the amended FCRA law allows foreign funding in media and even to political parties, but restricts foreign funding to NGOs active in areas of health, education and civil rights and environment.
Amnesty India has been targeted, attacked, bullied and harassed on flimsy grounds, because of its reports on human rights violations by the Indian armed forces in Kashmir and its exposure of the partisan role of police under Union Home ministry during the February riots in North-east Delhi.
The statement by Amnesty details the chronology of the attacks and harassment on it.
- On 25 October 2018, a 10-hour-long raid by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), a financial investigation agency under the Ministry of Finance. ED officers entered its premises and locked the gates behind them. Most of the information and documents that were demanded during the search were already available in the public domain or filed with the relevant government authorities. The residence of a Director was also raided.
- Immediately after the raid, the bank accounts were also frozen by the ED. Despite the ongoing investigations and before the framing of charges, the Government of India started a smear campaign against Amnesty International through selective leaking of documents gathered by the ED, to certain media outlets. This resulted in a malicious media trial against the organization.
- In early 2019, the Department of Income Tax started sending investigative letters to more than 30 small regular donors. Apparently, the department did not find any irregularities, but the process adversely affected the fundraising campaigns of Amnesty International India.
- In June 2019, Amnesty International India was denied permission to hold a press conference in Srinagar to release its third ‘Lawless Law’ report on the misuse and abuse of Public Safety Act in Jammu and Kashmir. It was forced to digitally release it.
- On 22 October 2019, Amnesty International testified at the US Congressional hearing on the situation of human rights in South Asia with specific focus on Jammu and Kashmir since the unilateral abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India.
- On 15 November 2019, two weeks after the testimony, the offices of Amnesty International India and the residence of one of its directors were raided again by the CBI. The raids were conducted on the basis of a First Information Report filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs over unsubstantiated allegations of suspected violations of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. It suggested investigations be launched under other laws like Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
- On 13 April 2020, Amnesty International India called on the Uttar Pradesh Government to stop its intimidation of journalists through use of repressive laws during a pandemic. On 15 April 2020, the Cyber Crime Police Station, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh notified Twitter to furnish information about Amnesty International India’s Twitter account @AIIndia which the organization uses to monitor and analyse developments in international human rights law and Indian constitutional and criminal law related to human rights issues.
- On 5 August 2020, marking the first anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, Amnesty International India released an update on the situation of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir.
- On 28 August 2020, marking the six-month anniversary of the riots that took place in North-East Delhi in February 2020, Amnesty International India released an investigative brief on the complicity of Delhi police in the riots which claimed the lives of at least 53 people, mostly from the minority Muslim community.
- The release of the two publications has provided fresh impetus to the establishment to harass and intimidate Amnesty International India through its investigative agencies.
- On 10 September 2020 Amnesty International India came to know that all its bank accounts were completely frozen by the Enforcement Directorate bringing most of the work of the human rights organization to a grinding halt.
Rajat Khosla, Amnesty’s senior director of research, advocacy and policy, told the BBC “Amnesty International India has been facing an onslaught of attacks, bullying and harassment by the government in a very systematic manner.” He further added, “This is all down to the human rights work that we were doing and the government not wanting to answer questions we raised, whether it’s in terms of our investigations into the Delhi riots, or the silencing of voices in Jammu and Kashmir.”
The Modi government is not going to tolerate any dissent to its nationalist Hindutva agenda and corporatisation of the economy. Dissent, to this regime, is sedition, an” anti-national” conspiracy to destabilize it. This becomes amply clear when on 27th January 2020, Nageswara Rao, a serving Indian Police Service officer, allegedly close to many senior RSS leaders, disregarding service rules, wrote an article titled “The Dangers of Foreign Funding” in the RSS mouthpiece Organiser. In the article, Mr. Rao called for a complete ban on foreign funding of NGOs in India as it “colonise[s] our minds and subvert[s] our national discourse.” He opined that the only way to save the country from the menace of NGOs, which are endangering the unity and integrity by causing civilisational osteoporosis, is to ban all sorts of foreign ‘donations’, whatever may be their purpose. He, however, advocated an exception for donations made by Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs), in their individual capacity as they are not acting as agents or conduits for others.
There is no doubt that Mr. Rao, who was later appointed as the interim CBI director, was reflecting the view of the RSS and Government. The hounding of Amnesty India should not be seen in isolation from the incessant witch-hunt of human rights organizations and activists, artists, students, lawyers, and public intellectuals by the Government over unfounded and motivated allegations. The attacks on Amnesty is only an extension of the various repressive policies and sustained assault by the government on those who dare to speak truth to power.