Amnesty India is the latest target of the Modi government’s assault on civil society. On Thursday, the Enforcement Directorate, an agency that looks into financial crimes, raided the organization’s office and froze its bank accounts, effectively stopping its vital human rights work.
“The ED’s raid on our office today shows how the authorities are now treating human rights organizations like criminal enterprises, using heavy-handed methods that are commonly found in repressive states. Our staff have been harassed and intimidated,” said Aakar Patel, Amnesty International India’s Executive Director.
“As an organization committed to the rule of law, our operations in India have always conformed with national regulations. The principles of transparency and accountability are at the heart of our work. We have nothing to hide. Everything about our structure has been available in the public domain for all to see,” he added.
According to him, the ten-hour-long raid began at 1:30pm, yesterday, when a group of officers from the ED entered the premises and locked the gates behind them. They ordered the Amnesty India staff to not leave, shut their laptops and not use their mobile phones.
“Even as we were not allowed to leave, and the staff were not allowed to contact their families, our colleagues showed exemplary strength in standing firm,” said Aakar Patel. The focus of the ED’s questioning was the relationship between two entities: Amnesty International India Pvt Ltd and Amnesty International India Foundation. .
The raid on Amnesty India’s offices comes just days after India’s election to the UN Human Rights Council, where it has an obligation to “uphold the highest international standards”. On the occasion, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “For us, human rights [and] their protection are not merely phrases. They are articles of faith, which we are continuously upholding. Whenever basic human rights are denied, like during the Emergency, the people of India fought tirelessly [and] ensured democracy and human rights prevail.”
“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. They are the same values that inspired the freedom struggle against colonial rule,” said Aakar Patel.
“We could not agree more with the Prime Minister when he says that periods of repression, like during the Emergency, have a left a stain on India’s history. Sadly, we seem to have returned to those dark days. Instead of protecting human rights, as it vowed to do, the government is now targeting the people who fight for them.”