By Dan Byrne
Amnesty International has been forced to shut down all operations in India, with the loss of up to 150 staff, due to a money-laundering investigation which they describe as a ‘witch-hunt.’
The closure came following the freezing of its assets on the 10th September by government officials, causing all Amnesty’s work in India to come to “a grinding halt.”
The freezing was carried out under the authority of the Indian Prevention of Money Laundering Act 2002, which allows authorities to confiscate property they believe to be the result of financial crime, the Wire reports.
India’s financial crime watchdog, the Enforcement Directorate, has led the investigation into Amnesty International’s activities – an investigation which has been running for almost two years.
While the ED have yet to comment on the new events, Amnesty International India have said that the closing of their bank accounts and freezing of their assets is not accidental.
“The constant harassment by government agencies including the Enforcement Directorate is a result of our unequivocal calls for transparency in the government,” AI said in a statement.
AI recently published a report criticising Delhi police for human rights violations they had allegedly committed in February 2020, during intense rioting in the capital.
53 people were killed and over 2,200 arrested after over a six-day period of conflict between Hindus and Muslims in the city.
Amnesty claims this report is a factor in continued government action against them.
“For a movement that has done nothing but raise its voices against injustice, this latest attack is akin to freezing dissent,” said Executive Director of Amnesty International India Avinash Kumar.
“Treating human rights organisations like criminal enterprises… is a deliberate attempt by the ED and Government of India to stoke a climate of fear and dismantle the critical voices in India.”
The 2-year long investigation has seen authorities raid amnesty’s offices, demand documents that were already published and accessible, contact individual donors in search of tax irregularities, and investigate foreign contributions to the organisation, according to AI.
It maintains that its work on human rights in India “operates a distinct model of raising funds domestically. AI stands in full compliance with all applicable Indian and international laws.”
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