Human rights organization Amnesty International is halting its operations in India, accusing the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of indulging in a 'witch-hunt'.
After a successful eight-year run in India addressing several crucial human rights violations amid growing hostility, Amnesty International (AI) India has decided to shut its operations in the country.
The human rights watchdog announced that it has been “compelled to let go off staff in India” and halt all its work as its bank accounts have been frozen.
In a statement, the organisation called the government's move to freeze its bank accounts a witch-hunt “over unfounded and motivated allegations”.
“The continuing crackdown on Amnesty International India over the last two years and the complete freezing of bank accounts is not accidental,” said Amnesty International India executive director Avinash Kumar.
Rights activists said the group, which has faced scrutiny by different government agencies over the past few years, saw the freezing of its bank accounts earlier this month as the final straw.
“This is distressing and clearly the message sent out by the government is that it will not tolerate criticism and telling international human rights groups that if you document rights violations by the Indian state we won't let you continue to function,” rights activist Kavita Krishnan told RFI.
“It is a clampdown of civil liberties and does not augur well for the future.”
The rights body brought out two exhaustive reports on the ground situation in Jammu and Kashmir and the riots in the capital in February this year which reportedly irked the government.
On August 5 this year marking the first anniversary of the scrapping of the special status of Kashmir, AI released an update on the situation of human rights in the region.
Within days, it released another damning report on the riots in Delhi accusing the police of complicity in the violence, which claimed the lives of at least 53 people, mostly from the minority Muslim community.
“For a movement that has done nothing but raise its voices against injustice, this latest attack is akin to freezing dissent," said Kumar.
The Indian government has so far not commented on Amnesty's allegations.
Denying allegations of hounding out the rights watchdog, top government officials said AI is being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate over alleged irregularities in receiving foreign funds.
According to the home ministry, the organization "got money into India through the FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) route," that is not allowed in the case of non-profits.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said Amnesty's exit was a blow.
“India's stature as a liberal democracy with free institutions, including media & civil society organisations, accounted for much of its soft power in the world. Actions like this both undermine our reputation as a democracy & vitiate our soft power,” he said on Twitter.
More than four million Indians have supported Amnesty's work in the last eight years and about 100,000 Indians had donated money.
AI operates in over 70 countries, and the only other country previously that it had been forced to shut operations in was Russia in 2016.