Amnesty International targeted once again, this time by CBI

The government’s veiled efforts to completely clamp down human rights activists in India has now become quite apparent.


Remember when the Union Home Minister recently made a statement on the lines of Human Rights being a foreign concept? With that as a background, the raids being conducted on human rights organizations and activists are painting a rather chilling picture. Organizations like Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and Lawyers Collective have already been whipped. Who’s next?

On the eve of November 15, the CBI conducted raids at the Bengaluru head office of Amnesty International India in connection with accusations that the non-profit had received foreign funds. The government had earlier declined permission to the Amnesty International India Foundation Trust that has been critical of security agencies in several cases including the arrest of activists such as Sudha Bharadwaj, Rona Wilson and Varavara Rao, who was accused of being a Maoist ideologue, for receiving foreign funds.  

Reportedly, connections are being drawn between these raids and the appointment of Avinash Kumar, a JNU alumnus as the India head for Amnesty International.

What Amnesty International has to say

In a statement issued by Amnesty International in response to the raids, they said, “It’s a great challenge to be leading Amnesty at a time when civil and political rights seem to be increasingly violated in the context of people asserting their socio-economic rights.” The statement further said, “Over the past year, a pattern of harassment has emerged every time Amnesty India stands up and speaks out against human rights violations in India. Amnesty India stands in full compliance with Indian and international law. 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.”

The plight of Human Rights Activists in India

A 2018 Gulf News headline read, “Threatened: Is Narendra Modi now demonetising democracy?”. This was in the light of the nation-wide raids that were carried out in the homes of human rights activists in India, terming them as urban naxals, after violence broke out after ‘Elgar Parishad’ in Pune, last year. There were even random allegations that in the large scheme of things, there was a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Modi!

This was not the only attack on human rights activism that had been carried out via enforcement agencies. In what can be termed as a calculated move, the Amnesty International offices were raided by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) last year and their offices were raided again by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) today in Bengaluru.

ED had conducted the searches last year in connection with alleged violation of foreign direct investment norms linked to a previous case of revocation of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) licence of the NGO by the Union Home Ministry in 2010. The ED had also frozen over a dozen bank accounts of environmental NGO Greenpeace and its linked entity after it conducted searches at premises of Amnesty International in Bengaluru on charges of alleged forex violations after taking cognisance of the FCRA action against it.

Al Jazeera had reported in 2018 that since coming to power in 2014, the Modi government had cancelled FCRA licences of over 15,000 charities. Greenpeace India, which had repeatedly pushed the government to address hazardous air quality in cities across India, said this month that it was forced to close two regional offices and sharply reduce its staff after its Bengaluru offices were raided and its bank accounts were frozen.

Prashant Bhushan, a public interest lawyer and activist had written an opinion piece in the India Express titled “Worse than Emergency” after the arrests of human activists had taken place in the ‘Elgar Parishad’ case.

In July this year, offices of Lawyers Collective, founded by celebrated and eminent lawyers, Indira Jaising and her husband Anand Grover were raided by CBI over FCRA violations. The Bombay High Court had asked CBI not to take any coercive actions against them and the same order was upheld by the Supreme Court, in appeal, recently.

Not very long ago, in 2015, Teesta Setalvad’s home and office in Mumbai were raided by the CBI and Scroll reported it as ‘a concerted effort by Gujarat and the State government to pin down charges against the human rights activist’. This raid was carried out just a few days before the Gujarat High Court was about to hear appeals by Babu Bajrangi and Maya Kodnani, both of whom were convicted for their role in the Naroda Patiya massacre, part of the spine chilling Gujarat riots of 2002.

Following Pakistan, only different modus operandi

In 2018, a Pakistani human rights activist’s home was raided by unidentified persons after she released a brazen report on Pakistan’s human rights violations. The Pakistani government seems to be unleashing veiled threats upon its activists, what India is doing in a legal way, which is even more perilous, since the same can be justified eventually by cooking up and twisting facts and dragging the names of activists through the mud, making the masses lose faith in civil society.



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