Amnesty International to stop work in India, cites government harassment and threats

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Amnesty International announced Tuesday it would close its operations in India after its bank accounts were frozen and its executives were interrogated following the publication of two reports by the group that criticized the government’s human rights record.

The group said it has been a victim of an increasingly aggressive Indian government that has pounced on anyone who speaks negatively about it.

Critics of government policies have faced threats and arrests made by the leaders of the world’s largest democracy.

FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, file photo, a woman walks past the Amnesty International India headquarters in Bangalore, India. The Human rights watchdog said on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, that it was halting its operation in India, citing reprisals from the government and the freezing of its bank accounts. Its announcement comes at a time amid growing concerns over the state of free speech in India where critics accuse Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist government of increasingly brandishing laws to silence human rights activists, intellectuals, filmmakers, students and journalists. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi, File)

FILE – In this Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, file photo, a woman walks past the Amnesty International India headquarters in Bangalore, India. The Human rights watchdog said on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, that it was halting its operation in India, citing reprisals from the government and the freezing of its bank accounts. Its announcement comes at a time amid growing concerns over the state of free speech in India where critics accuse Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist government of increasingly brandishing laws to silence human rights activists, intellectuals, filmmakers, students and journalists. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi, File)

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Avinash Kumar, executive director of Amnesty International India, said the government’s goal is to “stoke a climate of fear.”

He added that India is “treating human rights organizations like criminal enterprises and dissenting individuals as criminals without any credible evidence.”

Amnesty said its decision to close shop and lay off all its workers was the culmination of a two-year campaign of harassment by the home affairs ministry as well as an “incessant witch-hunt” of human rights groups by the Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi, the country’s prime minister and close friend of President Trump.

The crackdown on critics of the government – from students to reporters – has increased dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic. Courts have not yet resumed regular schedules and protests have been banned across India.

FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, file photo, Amnesty International India employees work at their headquarters in Bangalore, India. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi, File)

FILE – In this Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, file photo, Amnesty International India employees work at their headquarters in Bangalore, India. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi, File)

In all, Amnesty said it would lay off more than 100 staff members and stop its human rights campaign in the country.

The group’s recent work included reports on police complicity in religious riots in Delhi as well as a deep-dive into India’s military movements in Kashmir.

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“Sadly, this enormously important work standing up for victims has been met with the heavy-handed tactics that Indian civil society has become increasingly familiar with – part of the government’s drive to silence critical voices and stoke a climate of fear,” Julie Verhaar, acting secretary general of Amnesty International, said in a written statement.



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