Amnesty International has been forced to halt its work in India and lay off staff after the government froze its bank accounts across the country.
The Indian enforcement directorate, an agency that investigates economic crimes, froze the accounts of Amnesty’s Indian arm this month after the group published two reports highly critical of the government’s human rights record.
Amnesty said it was the culmination of a two-year campaign of harassment by the home affairs ministry, and more broadly part of an “incessant witch-hunt” of human rights groups by the government of India under Narendra Modi, the prime minister.
Amnesty has published two reports critical of Indian authorities in recent months: one of rights violations by police during communal riots in Delhi, and another condemning restrictions on civil liberties in Jammu and Kashmir a year after New Delhi revoked the region’s political autonomy.
“The continuing crackdown on Amnesty International India over the last two years and the complete freezing of bank accounts is not accidental,” Amnesty International India said in a statement.
Julie Verhaar, Amnesty International’s acting secretary general, said: “This is an egregious and shameful act by the Indian government, which forces us to cease the crucial human rights work of Amnesty International India for now.”
Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party has sought to clamp down on critical organisations – particularly where those organisations are perceived to be funded from overseas.
Modi’s government this month tightened restrictions on foreign-funded charities and has previously frozen the bank accounts of Greenpeace and raided the offices of human rights lawyers.
The enforcement directorate has not commented publicly on Amnesty’s statement. The Guardian has approached the government for comment.
Amnesty said it had been targeted with raids by police and threats of baseless prosecutions. It had been forced to halt all of its work and lay off its 140 Indian staff.
“Treating human rights organisations like criminal enterprises and dissenting individuals as criminals without any credible evidence is a deliberate attempt by the enforcement directorate and government of India to stoke a climate of fear and dismantle the critical voices in India,” said Avinash Kumar, executive director of Amnesty International India.
“It reeks of fear and repression, ignores the human cost to this crackdown particularly during a pandemic, and violates people’s basic rights.
“Instead, as a global power and a member of the United Nations human rights council, India must fearlessly welcome calls for accountability and justice.”