NEW YORK - Amnesty International, a prominent human rights watchdog, has condemned what it described as an assault on civil society in India after its Bangalore headquarters was raided by tax authorities.
Amnesty India’s bank accounts have been frozen after tax investigators spent more than 10 hours searching the office on Thursday. Staff were ordered to remain in the office, shut their laptops and not use their mobile phones during the search, an the London-based organization’s statement said.
Amnesty has been regularly documenting India’s human rights violations in occupied Kashmir. “Government authorities are increasingly treating human rights organizations like criminal enterprises,” Aakar Patel, AI’s Indian head, said in a statement.
“Our operations in India have always conformed to our national regulations,” he said. Patel said India was undergoing a period of repression similar to the 1975 Emergency when the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, suspended many constitutional liberties. Sadly, those dark days are now casting a shadow over India again. Instead of protecting human rights, as it vowed to do, the government is now targeting the people who fight for them, Patel said.
A spokesman for India’s Home Ministry confirmed that Amnesty India’s accounts had been frozen pending further investigation on foreign funding regulations, according to media reports. “Action has been taken against other NGOs too who have violated these rules,” the spokesman told media.
The Enforcement Directorate, a government agency that deals with financial crimes, carried out a raid at AI’s Bangalore office for 10 hours on Thursday, according to the reports. In 2014, the Indian government put the operations of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) under surveillance after an official intelligence agency accused certain rights groups of campaigning against some government projects.
It is not the first time that AI has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of targeting its operations.
In August, 2016, AI temporarily shuttered offices across India over safety concerns. The group also faced criminal charges over allegations by Hindu nationalists that it gave a platform to Kashmiri secessionists.
Police also filed charges against Amnesty for “sedition” and other offenses after a BJP student wing objected to an event held in Bangalore to discuss human rights violations in the disputed region of Kashmir. - APP