India fines Amnesty nearly $8m after funding probe

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NEW DELHI: India has fined the local branch of Amnesty International nearly $8 million after an investigation into its finances which the watchdog said was part of a “witch hunt”.

Rights groups have long claimed they are being harassed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist administration for speaking out about rights abuses, including in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Amnesty’s local bank accounts were frozen in 2020 as part of the investigation, forcing the group to lay off staff and halt campaigns and research. India’s Directorate of Law Enforcement, the agency responsible for investigating financial crimes, said on Friday that Amnesty breached foreign funding laws by directing foreign contributions to expand its local operations.

In a statement, Amnesty India was fined $6.5 million for receiving illegal foreign contributions, while its former chief executive, Aakar Patel, was fined an additional $1.3 million. dollars. Amnesty did not immediately react to the agency’s latest action.

But in 2020, the group said freezing its accounts was part of a “relentless witch hunt against human rights organizations by the Indian government over unsubstantiated and substantiated allegations”.

As in Russia under President Vladimir Putin and Hungary under Viktor Orban, critics say Modi’s government has sought to pressure rights groups by scrutinizing their finances and cracking down on foreign funding.

In 2015, a year after Modi took office, the Indian government froze the bank accounts of the Indian unit of the environmental organization Greenpeace.

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