New Delhi: After a rising chorus of international concern over the closure of operations by Amnesty International in India, the Ministry of External Affairs on Thursday said it was expected that foreign governments would not condone the contravention of Indian laws.
Amnesty International India closed down its operations in India on Monday after the Enforcement Directorate froze all of its bank accounts as part of a probe for alleged money laundering. The global human rights body had claimed that this was part of an “incessant witch-hunt of human rights organisations by the Government of India over unfounded and motivated allegations”.
The European Union was the first to express their concern over the cases against Amnesty International, followed by United Kingdom and then United States.
In response, MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said on Thursday that MHA had already issued a detailed statement which listed the charges against Amnesty India.
“NGOs are expected to adhere to all our laws including in respect of foreign funding. Just as they would in other countries including the US and EU. We expect other governments will not condone contravention of Indian laws by any entity,” he told reporters at the weekly briefing.
Earlier in Washington, an unnamed senior US state department official told reporters that that the case of Amnesty International’s India office “has received attention at the highest levels of our government”.
He added that the US administration and members of the US Congress had been “very, very closely following this issue”.
“The United States is committed to the health and vibrancy of civil society in all countries, but also especially India. We believe that the strength of civil society and the openness of society is a strength of India, and it’s something that is part of what powers our cooperation, our bilateral cooperation. And therefore, we’re concerned about obstacles to the work of civil society, whether in India or anywhere else in the world,” he said.
The US official added that Washington was looking forward to a resolution to this issue “that’s consistent with international principles and the rule of law”.
There were other voices in Washington which had also criticised the Indian government. The US congress’ bipartisan caucus on human rights, known as Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, stated that the Indian government’s action was from the “authoritarian’s (play)book”.
— Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (@TLHumanRights) September 29, 2020
Democrat Senator Bob Menendez had also expressed disappointment at Amnesty shutting down office in India. “As the world’s largest democracy, #India should support civil society and protect the human rights of all of its people,” he tweeted.
Amnesty International does critical work to protect human rights around the world, and I am disappointed that its important work was halted in India.
— Senator Bob Menendez (@SenatorMenendez) September 29, 2020
Across the Atlantic, the United Kingdom discussed the matter of Amnesty’s operations with Indian officials both in London and New Delhi.
“The UK’s Minister for South Asia and our Acting High Commissioner in New Delhi met Indian Government representatives after Amnesty International India’s accounts were frozen, to emphasise the importance of organisations like this being able to continue their important work,” said a British High Commission spokesperson on Wednesday.
She added that the UK was seeking further information on recent decisions affecting Amnesty and believes the freedom of civil society organisations to operate underpins any functioning democracy.
The European Union had been the first to public express their reservations.
“Not prejudging the outcome of any investigation or judicial proceedings, the European Union highly values the work of Amnesty International worldwide and hopes that the matter will be resolved allowing Amnesty to continue its activities in India without interruption,” said EU spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy Nabila Massrali on Tuesday. She added that EU was committed to the protection and empowerment of civic actors, including human rights defenders, and to the promotion of space for civil society.