NEW DELHI: The Centre rejected Amnesty International’s claims of being subjected to an “incessant witch-hunt” and said the “unfortunate” statement made by the organisation was an attempt to influence probe into its illegalities.
Both the government as well as the ruling BJP accused the human rights watchdog of circumventing the laws of the country to channel foreign money into its operations in India. The organisation had come under glare during the UPA rule, too, they pointed out.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said Amnesty was denied permission to receive foreign funds by previous UPA governments, too, for indulging in “illegal activities”. It also highlighted that the rights body is not registered under Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act).
Terming Amnesty’s claim “exaggerated and far from the truth”, the MHA said all the “glossy statements” about humanitarian work were nothing but a “ploy to divert attention” from their activities which were in clear contravention of Indian laws.
"Such statements are also an attempt to extraneously influence the course of investigations by multiple agencies into the irregularities and illegalities carried out over the last few years," the home ministry said in a detailed statement.
The home ministry said the Amnesty International had received permission under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) only once and that too 20 years ago, on December 19, 2000.
Since then the organisation, despite its repeated applications, has been denied FCRA approval by successive governments since as per law it is not eligible for it.
However, in order to circumvent the FCRA regulations, Amnesty UK remitted large amounts of money to four entities registered in India by classifying it as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
A significant amount of foreign money was also remitted to Amnesty (India) without MHA's approval under the FCRA.
"This mala fide rerouting of money was in contravention of extant legal provisions," it said.
Owing to these illegal practices of Amnesty, the previous government had also rejected the repeated applications of Amnesty to receive funds from overseas, the home ministry said.
This had led Amnesty to suspend its India operations once during that period as well.
The home ministry said this bipartisan and purely legal approach towards Amnesty, under different governments, makes it clear that the entire fault lies in the dubious processes adopted by Amnesty to secure funds for its operations.
"The stand taken and the statements made by Amnesty International are unfortunate, exaggerated and far from the truth," the home ministry said.
The home ministry said Amnesty is free to continue humanitarian work in India, as is being done by many other organisations.
"However, India, by settled law, does not allow interference in domestic political debates by entities funded by foreign donations.
"This law applies equally to all and it shall apply to Amnesty International as well," the home ministry statement said.
India has a rich and pluralistic democratic culture with a free press, independent judiciary and a tradition of vibrant domestic debate, it said.
The people of India have placed unprecedented trust in the current government, the home ministry said.
"The Amnesty's failure to comply with local regulations does not entitle them to make comments on the democratic and plural character of India," it said.
The BJP, too, spoke on similar lines, saying “any institution is welcome to work in India, but they must work within the legal framework of the country”.
BJP spokesperson Rajyavardhan Rathore said Amnesty had carried out “multiple illegalities” and consequently faced probes.
Alleging that the NGO had consistently been working with a negative bias against India, Rathore said it had always been silent against the atrocities against the minorities in Pakistan while describing the terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir as ‘armed groups”.
"Any organization can function in India, but it has to be within its legal ambit. Wearing a veil of honesty and acting in bad faith is not something we will permit to Indian or foreign organisations," he said.
Rathore also alleged that Amnesty International received foreign funds illegally.
"Multiple illegalities have been undertaken by Amnesty International, therefore, it has no right to lecture on propriety, especially when it faces action over its illegal practices," Rathore said.
He further said that in 2009, Amnesty International's license had been rejected by the UPA government for receiving foreign funds and their operations were suspended.
Linked private company under ED probe, not Amnesty NGO: Government sources
There is no ED investigation against Amnesty, which on Tuesday declared halting its operations in the country, but against a private company linked to the NGO that allegedly received dubious export proceeds worth over Rs 51 crore, government sources said.
They said the Enforcement Directorate, a federal probe agency to check money laundering and forex violation crimes, is investigating two entities -- Amnesty International India Pvt Ltd and Indians for Amnesty International Trust.
Both are being probed under the criminal sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and under the civil proceedings of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), they said.
The agency had issued a show-cause notice to Amnesty International India Pvt Ltd last September for alleged contravention of FEMA to the tune of over Rs 51 crore.
"Amnesty International India Pvt Ltd has allegedly received export proceed of Rs 51.72 crore during financial year 2013-14 to 2018-19 from Amnesty International, UK."
"Investigation proved that no services were exported and the amounts so received were in contravention to the provisions of the FEMA and PMLA," a senior officer said.
The contravention has led to "freezing" of balance deposit in the bank accounts of Amnesty India International Pvt Ltd and Indians for Amnesty International Trust, the officer said.
Sources said this freezing order was challenged by the two entities before the Karnataka High Court and the ED order was upheld by the court.
The court ordered that the funds present in those accounts, about Rs 38 crore at that time, should be kept frozen while the bank accounts can operate, the officer said.
Th officer added that the ED show cause notice under FEMA was issued after completion of the probe against the private limited company and the agency had taken all evidence and statements on record.
"No other fund except for alleged export proceeds received from Amnesty International,UK is under investigation or freezing under the law," the officer said.
The human rights NGO on Tuesday said it was halting all its activities in India due to freezing of its accounts and claimed that it is being subjected to an "incessant witch-hunt" over unfounded and motivated allegations.
"Treating human rights organisations like criminal enterprises and dissenting individuals as criminals without any credible evidence is a deliberate attempt by the Enforcement Directorate and government of India to stoke a climate of fear and dismantle the critical voices in India," it said.
(With PTI Inputs)