Amnesty India says raid, frozen accounts aimed at silencing government critics

Narendra Modi has tightened surveillance of thousands of non-profit groups over the past four years


Reuters October 26, 2018
PHOTO COURTESY: STRAITIMES

NEW DELHI: Indian authorities have frozen the bank accounts of Amnesty International after a raid on its country office, the human rights watchdog said on Friday, accusing the government of treating rights groups “like criminal enterprises”.

The Enforcement Directorate, India’s financial crime investigating agency, searched Amnesty’s Bengaluru office in southern India for 10 hours on Thursday on suspicion that it had violated foreign direct investment guidelines.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist government has tightened surveillance on non-profit groups over the past four years, saying they act against India’s interests. Thousands of foreign-funded groups have had licenses canceled or suspended on charges such as misreporting of donations.

Amnesty, which regularly accuses India of human rights violations in the restive Himalayan region of Kashmir, said more than five officials from the Enforcement Directorate raided its office, ordered employees to stay put and searched their desks.

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Employees were told to close their laptops and were not allowed to use their phones to call friends and families, Amnesty said, adding it fully cooperated.

"Government authorities are increasingly treating human rights organizations like criminal enterprises," Aakar Patel, executive director at Amnesty India, said in a statement.

“As an organization committed to the rule of law, our operations in India have always conformed with our national regulations. The principles of transparency and accountability are at the heart of our work,” he said.

A government spokesperson did not reply to an email request for comment.

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A source close to Amnesty said the group was considering legal action against the government for freezing the bank accounts, which could delay salaries and limit Amnesty’s activities.

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