By Nita Bhalla
NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Indian investigators on Tuesday raided the home and offices of a prominent human rights activist and critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, amid growing concern about a crackdown on foreign-funded charities.
A Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) official said a team had conducted early morning searches at Teesta Setalvad's home, the offices of her charity, the Sabrang Trust, and a third site.
CBI spokeswoman Kanchan Prasad said the raids followed "allegations of criminal conspiracy for illegal acceptance of foreign contribution without registration and prior permission from Ministry of Home Affairs".
Setalvad and her husband, Javed Anand, have denied charges of fraud, misappropriation of funds and violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) and said the raid was an attempt by the government to humiliate and intimidate them.
"We are very, very surprised and shocked by this," Setalvad told the NDTV news station, adding that she had written to the CBI two weeks ago offering her accounts for scrutiny.
"So we don't understand the rationale behind this entire operation, except to completely humiliate us. We believe this is politically directed."
Since Modi swept to power almost a year ago, his right-wing nationalist government has tightened surveillance of foreign-funded charities. It says some have violated the FCRA by not disclosing details of their donations, or used overseas money to engage in "anti-national" activities.
Setalvad has pursued legal cases against Modi, accusing him of failing to stop anti-Muslim rioting in 2002 when at least 1,000 people died in attacks while he was chief minister of Gujarat. Modi denied the accusations and was exonerated in an Indian Supreme Court inquiry in 2012.
In a separate case, Gujarat police accuse Setalvad of embezzling funds intended for construction of a museum for the victims of the Gujarat riots. Setalvad denies the allegations.
In the last three months, the licences of more than 13,000 non-profit groups have been canceled for failing to provide details of their foreign funds under the FCRA.
Non-profit groups reject the accusations, saying authorities are using the opaque, "draconian" law on foreign funding to muzzle their criticism of certain industrial projects and of human rights abuses in the world's largest democracy.
Donors have also come under scrutiny. The Ford Foundation, one of the world's largest charitable funds, was put on a watch list after the home ministry said it was investigating its funding for Setalvad's group. Ford Foundation representatives were not immediately available for comment.
(The story corrects to 'investigators' in headline, paragraph 1)
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)