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Amnesty International offices raided in South India and bank accounts frozen

The Indian government has frozen the bank accounts of Amnesty International after an initial raid on its Bangalore office in Southern India on Thursday.

The Enforcement Directorate, India’s financial crime investigating agency, had conducted the search under suspicion that Amnesty had violated foreign direct investment guidelines. Critics have responded asserting that this is an attempt to crack down on dissident voices airing criticism of the governmen'ts conduct in Kashmir and at home.

The raid lasted for 10 hours and employees were told not to use their laptops or phones.

In response, Aakar Patel, executive director at Amnesty India, said: “Government authorities are increasingly treating human rights organisations like criminal enterprises”. It is feared that the freeze on their bank accounts could seriously undermine and limit their operations as they will not be able to pay salaries or fund projects. Enforcement Directorate spokesman A K Rawal said the investigation could take three months to complete.

In his statement Patel maintained that Amnesty was fully willing to cooperate with the demands of the law. “As an organisation committed to the rule of law, our operations in India have always conformed with our national regulations," he said. "The principles of transparency and accountability are at the heart of our work.”

In a statement of support a spokeswoman for Greenpeace India claimed that this follows “seems to be part of a larger design to muzzle democratic dissent in the country that began in 2014”.

Since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 there has been increased surveillance on non-profit organisations over the last four years, according to human rights activists. Modi has on occasion claimed that such organisations often act against India’s interests. This has resulted in thousands of foreign-funded groups having their licenses cancelled or suspended on financial charges such as misreporting donations. The Ministry of Home Affairs notes that since 2014, India has cancelled the registration of nearly 15,000 nongovernmental organizations under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).

Gulf News India reports that last year, the state prohibited the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation from funding the Public Health Foundation of India. In a statement they maintained that foreign donations were used to lobby on tobacco-control policy “which is prohibited under FCRA”. Similarly, the Ministry of Home Affairs has placed the Ford foundation on a watch list and had revoked Greenpeace’s FCRA license in 2015. Whilst their license was renewed in 2016 it was cancelled again after three months. Greenpeace is currently challenging the courts decision and has stated it is being helped by thousands of Indian donors.

Reuters notes that Pakistan also faces similar criticism “having ordered at least 18 international aid agencies, most of them working on human rights issues, to leave the country”.