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Amnesty International to cease work in India, citing government harassment

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NEW DELHI — Amnesty International said Tuesday that it would halt operations in India after its bank accounts were frozen and its executives interrogated by financial authorities, the latest steps in what the human rights group called a two-year campaign of harassment.

The announcement reflects the diminishing space for dissent in the world’s largest democracy, where critics of government policies increasingly face probes by authorities or even arrest.

The government is “treating human rights organizations like criminal enterprises and dissenting individuals as criminals without any credible evidence,” Avinash Kumar, executive director of Amnesty International India, said in a statement. Its goal is to “stoke a climate of fear.”

Amnesty said it would lay off more than 100 staff members and cease its human rights campaigns in India. Its recent work included reports alleging police complicity in deadly interreligious riots in Delhi earlier this year and an investigation into India’s crackdown in the restive Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Tuesday’s announcement puts India in the same category as authoritarian regimes such as Russia, the only other country where Amnesty International previously ceased operations when it shuttered its office in 2016. The director of its Turkey arm was arrested, but its office in the country remains functional. The group does not have a presence in China.

Amnesty said it was in compliance with all Indian laws and had received no formal communication from the authorities regarding the freezing of its bank accounts earlier this month. No charges have been filed against the organization, it said. It plans to challenge the freezing of its accounts in court but said it did not expect a ruling soon.

India’s Ministry of Home Affairs alleged in a statement that Amnesty India was receiving funds from abroad in contravention of the law, a practice that had invited action from the previous government, as well. “All the glossy statements about humanitarian work and speaking truth to power” are a “ploy to divert attention,” it said.

A spokesman for the Enforcement Directorate — an investigative agency that enforces laws regarding money laundering and foreign exchange — did not respond to a request for comment.

Amnesty is not the only international watchdog under pressure from the government. Greenpeace India has been the subject of an investigation by the Enforcement Directorate since 2018. The probe forced the group to reduce its staff by a third and scale back its work on climate change.

The investigation puts a “psychological strain on the staff,” said Binu Jacob, executive director of Greenpeace India. “It is also a drain on the system when you have to give your time and energy to legal matters.”

Rights groups in India have been harsh critics of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which they accuse of stifling dissent and undermining the country’s secular founding ideals.

In turn, such groups have faced greater scrutiny from the government. Since 2014, when Modi swept to power, thousands of nongovernmental organizations have been banned from receiving funds from abroad. This month, lawmakers passed a contentious bill tightening these rules further.

In other instances, prominent critics of the government have faced more severe consequences. Several such figures are in jail awaiting trial. They include a well-known academic, lawyers and student leaders, all of whom were charged under a draconian anti-terrorism law.

Amnesty said it has faced sustained harassment for several years. In 2016, the group was charged with sedition after anti-India slogans were allegedly shouted at an event it held. The organization was acquitted by a court three years later.

Its office in Bangalore was raided in 2018 over alleged violations related to receiving foreign funds and its accounts were frozen, forcing layoffs. A court reprieve enabled the group to access the accounts again.

Some of Amnesty’s regular donors were sent notices by tax authorities in 2019, adversely affecting fundraising campaigns, it said.

In August, the group released a report on the February Delhi riots, in which more than 50 people were killed, the majority of them Muslims. It alleged that the Delhi police participated in the violence, an accusation rejected by the authorities, who called the report “lopsided, biased.”

Rajat Khosla, a senior director at Amnesty International’s office in London, said the group’s executives in India were repeatedly summoned this month for questioning and subjected to “all sorts of threats and intimidation.” The interrogations went on for hours, Khosla said, and included questions about why Amnesty did research into the Delhi riots.

Khosla said the probe into Amnesty’s work was part of a “systematic pattern” of conduct by the government toward civil society groups.

“What worries me tremendously,” he said, “is what is happening to core democratic values in a country like India.”

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Business

India extends $1 billion credit line to Central Asian countries for priority projects

Besides the $1-billion line of credit, India offered grant assistance for high impact community development projects to boost socio-economic development in Central Asia.

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India on Wednesday extended a $1-billion line of credit to Central Asian countries for priority projects in connectivity, energy, IT and health care, with the move being perceived as part of New Delhi’s efforts to boost its role as a transparent development partner.

The line of credit was welcomed by ministers of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyz Republic, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan during the second meeting of the India-Central Asia Dialogue held via video conference under the chairmanship of external affairs minister S Jaishankar. Acting Afghan foreign minister Haneef Atmar joined the meeting as a special invitee.

The meeting discussed cooperation in political and security matters, and all the countries called for settling the Afghan conflict on the principle of an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace process”, according to a joint statement. The countries also condemned terrorism and reaffirmed their determination to destroy terrorist safe havens, networks, and funding channels.

In a tacit reference to Pakistan, the joint statement said: “They also underlined the need for every country to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks against other countries.”

Jaishankar told the meeting: “India and Central Asia share ancient historical and cultural linkages. We consider Central Asia as India’s ‘extended neighbourhood’.” He added, “We face common challenges of terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking… All these commonalities make us a natural partner in our developmental journey.”

Besides the $1-billion line of credit, India offered grant assistance for high impact community development projects to boost socio-economic development in Central Asia.

The ministers emphasised the importance of connectivity in increasing trade and commerce between India and Central Asia, and appreciated New Delhi’s efforts to modernise Chabahar port in Iran as an important link in trade and transport between markets in Central and South Asia, the joint statement said. The ministers agreed to promote joint initiatives to create regional and international transport corridors.

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ISRO adopts new satellite naming style, RISAT-2BR2 now EOS-01

The customer satellites are being launched under commercial agreement with NewSpace India Ltd (NSIL), the commercial arm of Department of Space.

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ISRO launch

Chennai, Oct 28 : The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has decided follow a new naming policy for its earth observation satellites, it is learnt.

Henceforth, the Indian space agency will be naming its earth observation satellites as EOS tagged with a serial number.

As a result, ISRO’s radar imaging satellite RISAT-2BR2 has been renamed as EOS-01, an official preferring anonymity told IANS.

The ISRO on Wednesday said its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C49) will launch EOS-01 as a primary satellite along with nine international customer satellites from Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR, Sriharikota.

The launch is tentatively scheduled at 3.02 p.m. on November 7, subject to weather conditions.

EOS-01 is an earth observation satellite intended for applications in agriculture, forestry and disaster management support, the ISRO said.

The radar imaging satellite with synthetic aperture radar (SAR) that can shoot pictures in all weather conditions.

The satellite can take pictures day and night and will be useful for surveillance as well as civilian activities.

This time around, the ISRO will be using the PSLV rocket’s DL variant that will have two strap-on booster motors.

This rocket variant was used the first time to put into orbit Microsat R satellite on January 24, 2019.

The customer satellites are being launched under commercial agreement with NewSpace India Ltd (NSIL), the commercial arm of Department of Space.

Owing to Covid-19 pandemic norms, ISRO has decided to close the rocket launch viewing gallery for the public during this launch and gathering of media personnel at the Sriharikota rocket port is also not on the cards.

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at [email protected])

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Delhi records highest new Covid cases since pandemic began

The cases on Wednesday came out of the 60,571 tests conducted the previous day. The tally of active cases today rose to 29,378 from 27,873 the previous day.

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New Delhi : Delhi reported an unprecedented rise in the number of daily infections on Wednesday. According to a health department bulletin, the national capital recorded 5,673 fresh Covid-19 cases, the highest single-day spike till date, taking the total case-load to more than 3.7 lakh with 40 new fatalities pushing the death count in the national capital to 6,396.

This is the highest single-day figure that Delhi has reported since the pandemic struck the country. The national capital, which is battling the third wave of infections, has been logging more than 4,000 cases daily for the last six days.

With the onset of the festive season, the unprecedented spike has raised concerns, especially when the national Covid tally has shown a steady decline.

The Covid-19 figures in the national capital have been increasing rapidly.

On Tuesday, Delhi reported 4,853 new infections and 44 deaths, which was also its highest daily spike. The number of fresh cases recorded on Monday stood at 2,832, and 4,136 on Sunday, while the figures were 4,116 on Saturday and 4,086 on Friday.

The cases on Wednesday came out of the 60,571 tests conducted the previous day. The tally of active cases today rose to 29,378 from 27,873 the previous day.

The Health Ministry had expressed concern over the spike in Delhi’s cases and is expected to hold a meeting with top officials of the UT government on Thursday to chalk out a strategy for prevention of the Covid spread, the officials said on Tuesday.

The unwanted record spike coincides with an extended festive season and the onset of winter.

Medical experts have suggested that the Covid-19 virus could become even more potent and fatal as the temperature drops.

The increase in Covid cases has also been linked to the worsening pollution in the national capital, which is preparing for its annual bout with “severe” and “hazardous” air quality levels.

Meanwhile, the daily national Covid tally of India is on a constant decline for over a week, which had been reporting close to one lakh cases daily till last month.

Experts say the country has passed its peak but a surge is looming over in view of festivities and laxity observed by the public.

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