Amnesty India is the latest target of the Modi government’s assault on civil society. On Thursday, the Enforcement Directorate, an agency that looks into financial crimes, raided the organization’s office and froze its bank accounts, effectively stopping its vital human rights work.
Swift on the heels of its assault on Greenpeace India earlier this month, when the environmental group’s bank accounts were frozen, the Indian government is claiming violations of foreign funding regulations to shut down another prominent NGO.
“The Enforcement Directorate’s raid on our office today shows how the authorities are now treating human rights organizations like criminal enterprises, using heavy-handed methods that are commonly found in repressive states. Our staff have been harassed and intimidated,” said Aakar Patel, Amnesty International India’s Executive Director.
“As an organization committed to the rule of law, our operations in India have always conformed with national regulations. The principles of transparency and accountability are at the heart of our work. We have nothing to hide. Everything about our structure has been available in the public domain for all to see.”
The ten-hour-long raid began at 1:30pm, Indian Standard Time, on October 25, when a group of officers from the Enforcement Directorate entered the premises and locked the gates behind them. They ordered the Amnesty India staff to not leave, shut their laptops and not use their mobile phones.
“Even as we were not allowed to leave, and the staff were not allowed to contact their families, our colleagues showed exemplary strength in standing firm,” said Patel.
The focus of the Enforcement Directorate’s questioning was the relationship between two entities: Amnesty International India Pvt Ltd and Amnesty International IndiaFoundation.
Soon after the raid, a smear campaign was launched on social media and among pro-government sections of the media that have long opposed the organization’s human rights campaigns. Some media outlets claimed to have accessed secret government documents that cast Amnesty India’s operations as a dark web of intrigue.
The raid on Amnesty India’s offices comes just days after India’s election to the UN Human Rights Council, where it has an obligation to “uphold the highest international standards”. On the occasion, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “For us, human rights [and] their protection are not merely phrases. They are articles of faith, which we are continuously upholding. Whenever basic human rights are denied, like during the Emergency, the people of India fought tirelessly [and] ensured democracy and human rights prevail.”
“Our work in India, as elsewhere, is to uphold and fight for universal human rights. These are the same values that are enshrined in the Indian Constitution and flow from a long and rich Indian tradition of pluralism, tolerance and dissent. They are the same values that inspired the freedom struggle against colonial rule,” said Patel.
“We could not agree more with the Prime Minister when he says that periods of repression, like during the Emergency, have a left a stain on India’s history. Sadly, we seem to have returned to those dark days. Instead of protecting human rights, as it vowed to do, the government is now targeting the people who fight for them.”
The raid on Amnesty India’s office is indicative of a concerted effort by authorities to silence individuals and groups that work to defend human rights. The Indian authorities have used allegations of financial “irregularities” to obstruct the work of other human rights organisations including Lawyers Collective, Sabrang Trust, Navsarjan Trust, and People’s Watch.