Amnesty India closes offices after being accused of sedition

Amnesty India temporarily closed its offices in India over safety concerns for its employees after it was accused of sedition for organising an event that focused on human rights violations in Indian-ruled Kashmir.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Indian activists from the Akhila Bharata Vidyarthy Parishat (ABVP) organisation shout slogans during a protest outside the Amnesty International in New Delhi on August 17, 2016.

Amnesty International India has temporarily closed its offices and put off events after being accused of sedition by protesters, a spokeswoman of the rights group said.

Himanshi Matta, Amnesty International India's spokeswoman, cited safety concerns for the charity’s employees as the main reason for the closure of offices in India.

The rights group sparked protests by political activists after it hosted an event on August 13 focusing on abuses by Indian security forces in the Indian-ruled Kashmir. Demonstrators against the charity accused it of inciting hatred against the state during the event.

Amnesty said the allegations against the organisation were unsubstantiated, but admitted that slogans calling for Kashmir's independence were chanted by some people attending Saturday's seminar in the southern city of Bengaluru.

"The allegations mentioned in the complaint are without any basis. The event was an open door event and people were coming and going. No staff members were involved," Matta said.

FIR against Amnesty India

On August 15, the Bengaluru police filed a criminal case against Amnesty International India upon a complaint filed by Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a student organisation affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is linked to the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Amnesty said the First Information Report (FIR) was registered against it "for organising an event as part of a campaign to seek justice for human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir."

Indian activists from the Akhila Bharata Vidyarthy Parishat (ABVP) organisation shout slogans during a protest outside the Amnesty International in New Delhi on August 17, 2016.

“The event involved discussions with families from Kashmir, who were featured in a 2015 report, who had travelled to Bengaluru to narrate their personal stories of grief and loss,” the charity said in response to ABVP's complaint.

It further said that the report documents the obstacles to justice faced in several cases of human rights violations believed to have been committed by Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir.

“It focuses particularly on Section 7 of the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990 (AFSPA), which grants virtual immunity to members of the security forces from prosecution in civilian courts for alleged human rights violations.”

Following protests by hundreds of right-wing activists in Bengaluru on Tuesday and in New Delhi on Wednesday, the spokeswoman said the charity had decided to temporarily close its main office in the city, as well smaller ones in Pune, New Delhi and Chennai.

"They are preventing the families of victims of human rights violations in Indian-administered Kashmir from having their stories heard. And preventing civil society organisations from enabling these families to exercise their constitutional right to justice," she added.

Indian authorities and the armed forces, however, deny the charges, saying the law - the Armed Forces Special Powers Act - is essential to root out Kashmiri fighters.

Video footage of the event in Bengaluru which was recorded by Amnesty has been handed over to the police, and is being studied by forensic investigators, said a police official, who declined to be named.

Kashmir, a majority-Muslim region held by the Hindu-majority Indian state, has been the trigger for two of the three wars between India and neighbouring Pakistan - with both nuclear-armed nations laying claim to it.

Violent protests in Indian-administered Kashmir

Indian-ruled Kashmir has witnessed violent protests since July 8, when security forces killed a field commander of Pakistan-based militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, which enjoyed widespread support in the Muslim-majority region.

A protester throws stones towards the Indian police during a protest in Srinagar against the recent killings in Kashmir, August 9, 2016. Photo by Reuters

Kashmir also saw an upsurge in violence around India's Independence Day holiday on Monday, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the country would not bow to terrorism and accused neighbour and archrival Pakistan of glorifying it.

At least 64 people have been killed and thousands injured during recent protests in Indian administered Kashmir where schools, shops, banks and offices remain closed as paramilitary troops patrol arterial roads, residential areas and mosques.

India ready for talks with Pakistan

India is ready to send its foreign secretary to Pakistan for talks focused on fighting cross-border terrorism, following a spike in tension in the Indian-administered Kashmir.

Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. Photo by AFP

Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was willing to attend talks on the invitation of his Pakistani counterpart, sources at India's foreign ministry said, stressing that cross-border terrorism was central to the situation in the disputed region of Kashmir.

TRTWorld and agencies