The Ministry of Home Affairs on Tuesday rebutted human rights organisation Amnesty International India’s allegations of being forced to shut its operations as the Indian government froze its bank accounts. The Centre accused the group of violating foreign funding laws, and called its allegations unfortunate, exaggerated and “far from the truth”.

The organisation, in a statement, had cited “reprisal’” from the government for winding down its operations – a decision that will put about 150 employees out of jobs. The group called the authorities’ action a part of an “incessant witch-hunt”, and said its “lawful fundraising model” was being portrayed as money laundering because Amnesty India had challenged the “government’s grave inactions and excesses.”

But the Centre, in a statement tiled “Human rights cannot be an excuse for defying the law of the land”, rejected the allegations. Amnesty’s “glossy statements” about humanitarian work and speaking truth to power were nothing but a “ploy to divert attention” from their activities, which were in “clear contravention” of Indian laws, it said. The government accused the group of trying to “extraneously influence” the investigations by multiple agencies into the alleged irregularities and illegalities carried out by it.

Amnesty is free to continue humanitarian work in India, as is being done by many other organizations. However, India, by settled law, does not allow interference in domestic political debates by entities funded by foreign donations. This law applies equally to all and it shall apply to Amnesty International as well.  

— Ministry of Home Affairs

The government claimed that Amnesty had received permission under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act only once 20 years ago on September 19, 2000. Since then, it said the group has been denied FCRA approval by successive governments because it is “not eligible to get such an approval”.

The home ministry alleged that Amnesty’s United Kingdom office had circumvented the FCRA regulations by remitting large amounts of money to four entities in India, by classifying it as Foreign Direct Investment. “A significant amount of foreign money was also remitted to Amnesty (India) without MHA’s approval under FCRA,” the statement added. “This mala fide rerouting of money was in contravention of extant legal provisions.

Owing to these illegal practices of Amnesty, the previous government had also rejected the repeated applications of Amnesty 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.  

— Ministry of Home Affairs

The home ministry said the people of India have “unprecedented trust” in the Narendra Modi government. The Centre added that Amnesty’s “failure to comply with local regulations does not entitle them to make comments on the democratic and plural character of India”.

There was no immediate response by Amnesty to the government’s claims.

EU raises concerns

Meanwhile, the European Union expressed concern over the rights group having to halt operations in India, The Hindu reported. The EU conveyed these concerns to the Indian Embassy in Brussels on Tuesday.

The regional bloc told the Indian foreign ministry that it hoped the matter would be resolved soon so that Amnesty International can continue its work in India.