The government is “treating human rights organizations like criminal enterprises and dissenting individuals as criminals without any credible evidence,” said Avinash Kumar, executive director of Amnesty International India, in a statement. Its goal is to “stoke a climate of fear.”
Amnesty said it would lay off its staff and cease its human rights campaigns, which have included reports on the deadly inter-religious riots in Delhi earlier this year and India’s crackdown in the restive region of Kashmir.
Tuesday’s announcement puts India in the same category as authoritarian regimes such as Russia, the only other country where Amnesty International previously ceased operations when it shuttered its office in 2016. The director of its Turkey arm was arrested but its office in the country remains functional. The group does not have a presence in China.
Amnesty said that it was in compliance with all Indian laws and had received no formal communication from the authorities regarding the freezing of its bank accounts earlier this month. No charges have been filed against the organization, it said.
A spokesman for the Enforcement Directorate — an investigative agency that enforces laws regarding money laundering and foreign exchange — did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Human rights groups in India have been harsh critics of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which they accuse of stifling dissent and undermining the country’s secular founding ideals.
In turn, such groups have faced greater scrutiny from the government. Several prominent critics of the government are in jail awaiting trial. These include a well-known academic, lawyers and student leaders, all of whom were charged under a draconian anti-terror law.
Rajat Khosla, a senior director at Amnesty International’s office in London, said that the group’s executives in India had been repeatedly summoned for questioning and subjected to “all sorts of threats and intimidation.”
Khosla said the probe into Amnesty’s work was part of a “systematic pattern” of conduct by the government toward civil society groups.
“What worries me tremendously,” said Khosla, “is what is happening to core democratic values in a country like India.”
Joanna Slater contributed reporting.