Amnesty chief vows to defy India bid to 'crush' criticism

Kumi Naidoo, the Amnesty International secretary-general, has vowed to keep speaking out on Kashmir despite what he calls intimidation by India's government (AFP Photo/Olivier DOULIERY)

Amnesty International's chief vowed Monday that the rights group would not be silenced on raising concerns about Kashmir despite what he called intimidation by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.

India's financial crime investigators recently accused Amnesty's local branch of violating foreign exchange regulations through taking money from its London-based parent.

That claim came after Amnesty vocally criticized Modi's Hindu nationalist government on Kashmir, which was India's only Muslim-majority state until New Delhi stripped its autonomy last month.

"The Modi government has made a very big attempt to crush Amnesty in India," Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International's secretary-general, told AFP on a visit to Washington.

"On the Kashmir question, on various human rights questions in India itself, we are not intimidated," he said.

"While our colleagues in our Indian office are under stress, they are as committed, motivated and courageous as ever, if not more, as a result of the repression that we face."

Modi's government has cracked down on foreign non-governmental organizations since coming to power in 2014, suspending or banning thousands of groups, many working in health or the environment, for receiving money from abroad.

Naidoo, however, said that Amnesty -- whose Bangalore office was raided last year -- would survive in India as it has funding from local donors.

Amnesty has faced heated criticism from India's right wing for its stance on Kashmir, where authorities have largely shut down the internet, mobile service and initially also landlines.

"It is a horrific thing to actually cut people's legitimate way of communicating with each other completely," Naidoo said.

"There are life-and-death issues associated with doing that. Whether it is family members needing to communicate with each other, being able to go to the doctor's, this is something that governments need to stop doing," he said.

"And, sadly, there are more and more governments doing it, and we need to speak out against this very strongly."

India argues that the measures are temporary and have helped ensure calm in Kashmir, charging that rival Pakistan is trying to stir up trouble.