NGO Amnesty International on Tuesday announced that it was shutting its offices in India and letting go of its staff, nearly 150 members, in Bengaluru and Delhi following the freezing of its bank accounts by the Enforcement Directorate.
“The complete freezing of Amnesty International India’s bank accounts by the Government of India which it came to know on 10 September 2020, brings all the work being done by the organization to a grinding halt,” Amnesty International India said in a statement. The offices will shut by Wednesday.
Amnesty called the freezing of accounts “akin to freezing dissent” and said the action was “the latest in the incessant witch-hunt of human rights organizations”, leaving them unable to carry on with campaign and research work in India. Executive Director of Amnesty International India Avinash Kumar said over email that they would approach the Karnataka High Court.
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.”
In a statement, Amnesty’s Kumar said, “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 the 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 said they came to know on September 10 that all their bank accounts were frozen by the ED as part of a probe into a 2018 case. “We assessed all scenarios where we could survive but there was none,’’ an Amnesty India staff member said.
Some of Amnesty’s 150 staff members will continue as volunteers in order to ensure continuity of its programmes.
Following the ED probe, the Income Tax department had sent “investigative letters to more than 30 small regular donors’’, Amnesty said.
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 demanded during the search were already available in the public domain or filed with the relevant government authorities,” it said.
Subsequently, in 2019, the CBI had filed a case against AIIPL, the Indians for Amnesty International Trust, Amnesty International India Foundation Trust, Amnesty International South Asia Foundation. The ED had also issued a show cause notice to Amnesty alleging violations of the foreign exchange law to the tune of Rs 51 crore.
Operating in 80 countries, Amnesty International has had 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.
While in June 2019, Amnesty had been denied permission to hold a press conference in Srinagar to release a report over use of the Public Safety Act in Jammu and Kashmir, later that year it had testified at the US Congressional hearing on the human rights situation in South Asia, with a special focus on the abrogation of Article 370. In November 2019, Amnesty had released a report on the role of foreigners’ tribunals in Assam. It has also taken up the Bhima Koregaon case, where activists have been held. Recently, Amnesty released reports on Kashmir one year after special status was revoked, and on the February Delhi riots.
- Amnesty International is a London based Non-Governmental Organisation founded in 1961.
- The organization aims to create a world where every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rightsand other international human rights standards.
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in It recognized the fundamental human rights universally for the first time.
- It also conducts research, generates action to prevent grave abuses of human rights and demands justice for those whose rights have been violated.
- The organization was awarded the Nobel Peace Prizein 1977 for its “Defence of human dignity against torture” and the United Nations Prize in the field of Human Rights in