Amnesty International suspends Indian operations, citing government 'witch hunt'
September 29, 2020
NEW YORK (AFP) - Amnesty International on Tuesday has halted its operations across India after its bank accounts were frozen in what it called a government "witch-hunt" against rights groups. Non-governmental organisations have long alleged they face harassment from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist administration for highlighting rights abuses, including in India-occupied Kashmir (IoK). Amnesty said that it came to know on September 10 that its Indian bank accounts were frozen, forcing it to let go of staff and pause all ongoing campaign and research work. "This is the latest in the incessant witch-hunt of human rights organisations by the Government of India over unfounded and motivated allegations," the group said in a statement. Amnesty said that the freezing of its accounts is "no accident" after it issued a series of reports alleging "grave human rights violations" by police in deadly sectarian riots in New Delhi in February, and by security forces in IoK. "Treating human rights organisations like criminal enterprises and dissenting individuals as criminals without any credible evidence is a deliberate attempt... to stoke a climate of fear and dismantle the critical voices in India," said Avinash Kumar, Amnesty India's executive director. "It reeks of fear and repression, ignores the human cost to this crackdown particularly during a pandemic and violates people's basic rights to freedom of speech and expression, assembly, and association guaranteed by the Indian Constitution," he said in the statement. The Indian government was yet to comment on Amnesty's announcement. President Arif Alvi shared the announcement on his Twitter account, casting a light on the decision. According to an excerpt from the BBC report shared, quoting the group's senior director Rajat Khosla, the Indian government "is not wanting to 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". Human rights minister Shireen Mazari shared Amnesty's statement and wrote: "And the world still remains silent on fascist Modi government". Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth said that the group being forced to halt its operations is "yet more evidence that PM Modi's government is failing to uphold freedom of speech and association".