India has frozen the rights group's bank accounts, forcing it to let go of staff and pause all ongoing campaign and research work.

In this August 24, 2016  file photo, members and activists of India's governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) protests against Amnesty International in Bangalore, India. A sedition case was registered against the rights group in Bangalore for hosting a Kashmir event.
In this August 24, 2016 file photo, members and activists of India's governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) protests against Amnesty International in Bangalore, India. A sedition case was registered against the rights group in Bangalore for hosting a Kashmir event. (Aijaz Rahi / AP)

Amnesty International has suspended its Indian operations after its bank accounts were frozen by government in the latest action against the human rights group for speaking out about rights violations in the country.

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-administered Kashmir.

"This is latest in the incessant witch hunt of human rights organisations by the government of India over unfounded and motivated allegations," Amnesty said in a statement.

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.

'No accident'

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 India-administered Kashmir.

"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," Kumar said in the statement.

There was no immediate response from the government spokesperson to requests for comment.

Clampdown On Dissent

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has faced accusations that it is clamping down on dissent, including in Muslim-majority Kashmir, where insurgents have battled government forces for more than 30 years.

Critics also say the government is pushing a Hindu-first agenda, undermining the secular foundations of India's democracy and raising fears among its 170 million Muslim minority.

The government denies any bias against any community.

Tighter control of funds?

Opposition politician Shashi Tharoor said Amnesty's exit was a blow.

"India's stature as a liberal democracy with free institutions, including media & civil society organisations, accounted for much of its soft power in the world. Actions like this both undermine our reputation as a democracy & vitiate our soft power," he said on Twitter.

Last week, the government enacted changes in the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Bill setting new conditions for organisations.

Some NGOs said the measures seeking tighter control of funds were aimed at creating an air of distrust.

Kumar said more than four million Indians have supported Amnesty's work in the last eight years and about 100,000 Indians had donated money.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies