Amnesty International India has temporarily closed its offices and postponed events aimed at raising awareness of rights abuses over safety concerns for its staff after the charity was accused of sedition by protesters, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday.
The prominent rights group held an event on Saturday that focused on human rights abuses carried out by Indian security forces in Kashmir, one the most sensitive national issues in India.
Police in the southern city of Bangalore, the city where the event was held, said they are investigating if “anti-India” slogans were raised at the event after receiving a complaint from the right-wing student organisation Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), which has ties to the ruling Bharitya Janata Party.
Although Amnesty denied all allegations, calling them unsubstantiated, it admitted that slogans calling for Kashmir’s independence were chanted by some of the attendees of Saturday’s seminar.
The organisation reaffirmed that none of its employees took part in those acts.
“The allegations mentioned in the complaint are without any basis. The event was an open-door event and people were coming and going. No staff members were involved,” said Himanshi Matta, Amnesty International India’s spokeswoman.
“They are preventing the families of victims of human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir from having their stories heard,” she said, adding that “preventing civil society organisations from enabling these families to exercise their constitutional right to justice”.
Following protests by hundreds of right-wing activists in Bangalore on Tuesday and in Delhi on Wednesday, Matta said the charity had decided to temporarily close its main office in the city, as well as smaller ones in Pune, New Delhi and Chennai.
The seminar, which was aimed at raising awareness over the lack of justice for families of victims in Kashmir, was planned to take place in Mumbai and New Delhi next week, but has been postponed owing to security concerns for the families and staff, she added.
For years, rights groups have accused Indian forces battling a separatist rebellion in Kashmir and parts of northeast India of violating civilian rights through the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act, a law that grants Indian forces sweeping powers to search, arrest or shoot people.
Authorities and the armed forces deny the charges, saying the law is essential to root out rebels.
Video footage of the event in Bangalore, which was recorded by Amnesty, has been handed over to the police, and is being studied by forensic investigators, said a police official speaking on condition of anonymity.
Kashmir, India’s only majority-Muslim region, has been the trigger for two of the three wars between India and neighbouring Pakistan, with both nuclear-armed nations laying claim to it.
Indian-administered Kashmir experiences its worst unrest in six years after security forces killed a young separatist commander last month who was idolised by some youth, provoking an outpouring of anger.
At least 64 people comprising both civilians and security forces have been killed in the past 40 days in violent street protests, and a strict curfew has been imposed on residents.