File photo of activists from Amnesty International India along with other Delhi based human right groups shouting anti-General Musharraf slogans during a protest march on International Day of Action on Pakistan in New Delhi, 15 Nov. 15, 2007. (Raveendran/AFP via Getty Images)

NEW DELHI (AP) — Human rights watchdog Amnesty International said Sept. 29 that it is halting its operation in India, citing reprisals by the government and the freezing of its bank accounts by Indian authorities.

Amnesty International India said it has laid off its staff and paused all its ongoing campaign and research work on human rights, and that Indian authorities froze its bank accounts on suspicion of violating rules on foreign funding.

It said in a statement that the authorities’ actions were “the latest in the incessant witch hunt of human rights organizations by the government of India,” and that the group’s fundraising was being portrayed as money laundering because it has challenged the “government’s grave inactions and excesses.”

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

It said Amnesty India’s applications to function under a law regulating foreign grants to non-government organizations had been denied by successive governments since 2000 and that the group had circumvented the law by resorting to “mala fide rerouting of money.”

Amnesty International previously suspended its India operations in 2009 when its application to receive funds from overseas was denied by the then-governing Congress party, which now sits in opposition.

“All the glossy statements about humanitarian work and speaking truth to power are nothing but a ploy to divert attention from their activities which were in clear contravention of laid down Indian laws,” the ministry said in a statement.

Amnesty India’s executive director, Avinash Kumar, said the accounts were frozen as a result of the group’s “unequivocal calls for transparency in the government” and for the accountability of New Delhi police and the Indian government regarding “grave human rights violations in Delhi riots” and Indian-administered Kashmir.

“For a movement that has done nothing but raise its voices against injustice, this latest attack is akin to freezing dissent,” Kumar said in a statement.

It is not the first time that Amnesty India has said Indian authorities targeted its operations. In 2018, authorities raided its office and froze its bank accounts on similar charges.

In 2016, it faced sedition charges after Hindu nationalists objected to an event held in the southern city of Bangalore to discuss human rights violations in the disputed region of Kashmir. The charges were dropped three years later.

The rights group regularly accuses Indian authorities of committing human rights violations in Indian-administered Kashmir and has released multiple reports on the raging conflict in the region.

IANS adds from New Delhi: The stand taken and the statements made by Amnesty International are unfortunate, exaggerated and far from the truth, the Ministry of Home Affairs said Sept. 29.

The MHA said that Amnesty International had received permission under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act only once and that too 20 years ago on Dec. 19, 2000.

Since then, the ministry said, the global human rights watchdog, despite its repeated applications, has been denied FCRA approval by successive governments since as per the law it is not eligible to get such an approval.

However, in order to circumvent the FCRA regulations, Amnesty UK remitted a large amount of money to four entities registered in India, by classifying it as foreign direct investment, it said.

"A significant amount of foreign money was also remitted to Amnesty (India) without the MHA's approval under FCRA. This mala fide rerouting of money was in contravention of extant legal provisions," the MHA said.

Owing to these illegal practices of Amnesty, the MHA said the previous government had also rejected its repeated applications to receive funds from overseas.

"This had led Amnesty to suspend its India operations once during that period as well. 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 statement said.

The MHA also said that Amnesty is free to continue humanitarian work in India, as is being done by many other organizations. However, it also clarified that India, by settled law, does not allow interference in domestic political debates by entities funded by foreign donations.

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