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Amnesty International India to challenge govt order freezing its accounts in Karnataka HC

While Amnesty said it was halting all operations in India due to govt's 'witch-hunt', MHA has said action was taken because the human rights body was receiving funds illegally.

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New Delhi: Amnesty International India has said it will approach the Karnataka High Court, after the Government of India freezed its bank accounts saying it “circumvented”  the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act regulations to receive funds illegally. The international human rights body has suspended all its operations in the country.

In a press release Tuesday, Amnesty International India announced that its functions had come to a “grinding halt”, and that it had to let go of all employees in India and pause ongoing campaign and research work.

“This is latest in the incessant witch-hunt of human rights organizations by the Government of India over unfounded and motivated allegations,” the statement read.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, however, called the allegations “unfortunate, exaggerated and far from the truth”.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the ministry said Amnesty is “free to continue humanitarian work in India, as is being done by many other organizations” but India, “by settled law, does not allow interference in domestic political debates by entities funded by foreign donations”.

The MHA said Amnesty International had received permission under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) only once 20 years ago, on 19 December 2000. Since then, it said, the organisation has been denied FCRA approval by successive governments despite repeated applications since it is not eligible to get such an approval according to law.

“India has a rich and pluralistic democratic culture with a free press, independent judiciary and tradition of vibrant domestic debate. The people of India have placed unprecedented trust in the current government. Amnesty’s failure to comply with local regulations does not entitle them to make comments on the democratic and plural character of India,” the statement read.

Also read: Modi govt treating human rights organisations like criminal enterprises: Amnesty International

Govt says Amnesty acquired foreign funds illegally

According to the government, the international organisation was receiving funds illegally.

To “circumvent” the FCRA regulations, the MHA said in its statement, Amnesty UK “remitted large amounts of money to four entities registered in India, by classifying it as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)”. A significant amount of foreign money was also remitted to Amnesty (India) without MHA’s approval under the FCRA, it said, adding: “This mala fide rerouting of money was in contravention of extant legal provisions.”

The statement said Amnesty had to suspend its India operations once during the previous government also after the latter, “owing to these illegal practices”, had rejected its repeated applications to receive funds from overseas. “This bipartisan and purely legal approach towards Amnesty, under different governments, makes it clear that the entire fault lies in the dubious processes adopted by Amnesty to secure funds for its operations.”

The MHA said Amnesty International’s “glossy statements” about humanitarian work and speaking truth to power are “a ploy to divert attention from their activities which were in clear contravention of laid down Indian laws”.

“Such statements are also an attempt to extraneously influence the course of investigations by multiple agencies into the irregularities and illegalities carried out over the last few years.”

Avinash Kumar, executive director of the organisation, however, refuted all charges. “This allegation is absolutely false and motivated. All financial transactions between Amnesty International India Private Limited (AIIPL) and Amnesty International Limited UK or any other entity are made in full compliance with the Companies Act and other applicable laws,” he told ThePrint.

“The two entities comply with all applicable laws and regulations. AIIPL has received payments for contractual services rendered to its clients,” he added.

Speaking about moving the Karnataka High Court, Kumar said the case is “expected to go on over the next few months” in court.

“Timelines are hard to estimate due to the nature of the Indian judicial system and uncertainty due to the emergency measures enforced by the Government of India and various state governments to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic that have led to restricted functioning of India’s courts,” he said.

Kumar also talked about how money in the organisation is raised within India.

“It is primarily driven by its individual supporters (around 11,000 in number) who give a small amount of money on a monthly basis. Additionally, through its digital and online campaigns and telecalling, it generates funds through one time donations,” he said.

Amnesty, in its press release, claimed that the government action follows the NGO’s reports on the alleged human rights violation in the Delhi riots and in Jammu and Kashmir after the revocation of Article 370 in August last year. The report on riots highlighted Delhi Police’s alleged complicity with the rioters.

“The constant harassment by government agencies including the Enforcement Directorate is a result of our unequivocal calls for transparency in the government, more recently for accountability of the Delhi Police and the Government of India regarding the grave human rights violations in Delhi riots and Jammu & Kashmir,” Kumar said in the statement.

Also read: Hours before Amnesty briefing on detention law, J&K denies permission for event in Srinagar

Series of run-ins with govt agencies

Amnesty International India has had a series of run-ins with government agencies.

In 2019, the Enforcement Directorate had issued a show cause notice to the organisation for allegedly flouting Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) norms.

According to the release, the same year, the income tax department had also sent letters to more than 30 regular donors for alleged discrepancies. While no such discrepancy was found, it severely impacted the organisation’s fundraising abilities.

In October 2018, the organisation had faced a 10-hour-long raid by the ED.

It had then said, “Most of the information and documents that were demanded during the search were already available in the public domain or filed with the relevant government authorities. The residence of a Director was also raided.”

After the raid, Amnesty’s bank accounts were frozen and it had to let go of a few of its staff members.

According to activist and former head of Amnesty International India Aakar Patel, this was the fifth time the organisation was being shut down.

Speaking to ThePrint, Patel explained that compared to previous years there was not much difference in action taken against the organisation. “The State in India is anti-human rights generally. The nastiness this time is higher.”

“This is an organisation that has won the Nobel Peace Prize. We should consider what this does to our reputation globally,” he added.

On the halt in operations of Amnesty India, Patel said, “I hope it’s for a short time. But I do know that it will return. Amnesty is a movement not an organisation. The government doesn’t seem to know the difference.”

The report has been updated with the MHA statement 

Also read: When freedoms are under assault, Aakar Patel won’t look away and ask ‘what’s for lunch?’


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