The press release suggests that Amnesty India has been targeted as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi government’s assault on civil society.
The Enforcement Directorate, an agency that investigates financial crimes, raided the Amnesty India office on late October and froze its bank accounts, effectively stopping its vital human rights work.
The raid follows a similar attempt to intimidate Greenpeace India earlier this month, when the environmental group’s bank accounts were frozen, with the Indian government claiming violations of foreign funding regulations to shut down another prominent non-governmental organization.
Aakar Patel, Amnesty International India’s Executive Director, said: “Our staff have been harassed and intimidated.
“The Enforcement Directorate’s raid on our office shows how the authorities are now treating human rights organizations like criminal enterprises, using heavy-handed methods that are commonly found in repressive states.
“As an organization committed to the rule of law, our operations in India have always conformed with national regulations. The principles of transparency and accountability are at the heart of our work.
“We have nothing to hide. Everything about our structure has been available in the public domain for all to see.”
The 10-hour raid began at 1.30pm, October 26 when a group of officers from the Enforcement Directorate entered the premises and locked the gates behind them. They ordered the Amnesty India staff to not leave, shut their laptops and not use their mobile phones.
The focus of the Enforcement Directorate’s questioning was the relationship between two entities: Amnesty International India Pvt Ltd and Amnesty International India Foundation.
Soon after the raid, a smear campaign was launched on social media and among pro-government sections of the media that have long opposed Amnesty India’s human rights campaigns.
The raid on Amnesty India’s offices comes just days after India’s election to the UN Human Rights Council, where it has an obligation to “uphold the highest international standards”.
Prime Minister Modi posted on Twitter: “For us, human rights [and] their protection are not mere phrases. They are articles of faith, which we are continuously upholding. Whenever basic human rights are denied, like during the Emergency, the people of India fought tirelessly [and] ensured democracy and human rights prevail.”
Aakar Patel said: “Our work in India, as elsewhere, is to uphold and fight for universal human rights. These are the same values that are enshrined in the Indian Constitution and flow from a long and rich Indian tradition of pluralism, tolerance, and dissent. They are the same values that inspired the freedom struggle against colonial rule.
“We could not agree more with the Prime Minister when he says that periods of repression, like during the Emergency, have a left a stain on India’s history. Sadly, we seem to have returned to those dark days. Instead of protecting human rights, as it vowed to do, the government is now targeting the people who fight for them.”
The raid on Amnesty India’s office is indicative of a concerted effort by authorities to silence individuals and groups that work to defend human rights. The Indian authorities have used allegations of financial “irregularities” to obstruct the work of other human rights organizations including Lawyers Collective, Sabrang Trust, Navsarjan Trust, and People’s Watch.
Amnesty India works tirelessly to advance human rights for all people in India, including initiatives on human rights education and campaigns to end discrimination, unlawful killings, violence against women and abuses by companies.