A group of 15 international organisations has condemned the Centre’s move to freeze the funds of human rights body Amnesty International India, forcing it to halt its work. In a statement released on Wednesday, the Amnesty India said that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government’s actions “mimic that of authoritarian regimes”, which cannot take criticism and target those who speak out.

The organisations that have raised concern about the actions against Amnesty International India are the Association for Progressive Communications, Global Indian Progressive Alliance, International Commission of Jurists, International Federation for Human Rights, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Front Line Defenders, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Foundation the London Story, Hindus for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, International Service for Human Rights, Minority Rights Group, Odhikar, South Asians for Human Rights, and World Organisation Against Torture.

The statement said that the BJP government accused Amnesty India of violating laws on foreign funding, which was a charge the group believed to be “politically motivated.” It constitutes evidence “that the overbroad legal framework is maliciously activated when human rights defenders and groups challenge the government’s grave inactions and excesses,” the statement said.

It said the government has regularly used foreign funding regulations under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act to target outspoken groups. The statement added that the FCRA law itself has been condemned for violating international human rights law and standards.

United Nations experts on human rights defenders, on freedom of expression, and on freedom of association have urged the government to repeal the law, saying it is “being used more and more to silence organisations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the Government.”

— The statement

The group said that even after a statement from the United Nations, the Centre amended the FCRA, adding to it further governmental oversight, additional regulations and certification processes, and operational requirements that would affect civil society groups and restrict access for small nongovernmental organisations to foreign funding.

They further pointed out that the BJP government was increasingly targeting, harassing and lodging cases against human rights activists, students, journalists and academics, among others, under “repressive laws” such as sedition and terrorism. The action against Amnesty International India draws attention to pressure and violence felt by those defending citizens’ rights local defenders, it added.

“With growing criticism of the government’s discriminatory policies and attacks on the rule of law, the authorities seem more interested in shooting the messenger than addressing the grievances,” the statement said.

The group said that a robust, vocal and independent civil society is “indispensable” in a democracy, adding that the government should work to protect the rights of people instead of treating human rights group as enemies.

Amnesty International India also spoke out against the government’s action. In a statement, it had 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. The constant harassment by government agencies including the Enforcement Directorate is a result of our unequivocal calls for transparency in the government, more recently for accountability of the Delhi police and the Government of India regarding the grave human rights violations in Delhi riots and Jammu & Kashmir. For a movement that has done nothing but raise its voices against injustice, this latest attack is akin to freezing dissent.”

— Amnesty International India Executive Director Avinash Kumar

On Tuesday, the human rights group said it would approach the Karnataka High Court against the freezing of its bank accounts.

The National Human Rights Commission on Wednesday issued summons to Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla and the Ministry of Home Affairs, in connection with the matter. The commission has sought replies within six weeks.

The Centre had accused the Amnesty International India of violating foreign funding laws, and called its allegations unfortunate, exaggerated and “far from the truth”. It claimed 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. 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 International has been present in India for the last eight years. The decision to shut down will see almost 150 employees lose their jobs.