New Delhi, India – Indian immigration authorities have barred Aakar Patel, chair of Amnesty International in India, from travelling to the United States because of an order issued by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) over a case against the rights body’s India office in 2019.
A CBI official confirmed to Al Jazeera that Patel was on the CBI’s “look-out circular”, which prevents a person wanted by law enforcement agencies from travelling abroad. The official, who did not want to be named, refused to comment further.
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“Stopped from leaving India at Bangalore airport. CBI officer called to say I am on the look-out circular because of the case [the] Modi government has filed against Amnesty International India,” Patel, 51, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday morning.
Patel was supposed to visit some US universities to deliver lectures after his passport, which was impounded in connection with another case, was returned to him on the order of a local court in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In one of his tweets, Patel shared the court’s ruling which allows him to travel to the US between March 1 and May 30.
‘Climate of harassment, intimidation’
Amnesty International on Wednesday said Indian authorities must immediately lift the arbitrary travel ban imposed on Patel.
“Denying Aakar’s right to freedom of movement to prevent him from exercising his freedom of expression is an alarming manifestation of the Indian government’s mounting crackdown on human rights defenders and activists,” said Kyle Ward, Deputy Secretary General of Amnesty International.
“Operating in a climate of harassment, intimidation, interference and constant surveillance is unacceptable, but has unfortunately become routine for human rights activists in India.”
Last week, prominent Indian journalist and activist Rana Ayyub was also barred from boarding her flight to London where she was scheduled to address an event on the “targeting of journalists in the world’s largest democracy”.
Ayyub, a vocal critic of Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, was allowed to fly abroad this week after a court intervened.
Patel on Wednesday made an application to a Delhi court seeking to direct the CBI to withdraw the look-out circular issued against him.
“I don’t know why I’m on their look-out circular,” Patel told Al Jazeera.
Crackdown on Amnesty India
In November 2019, the CBI raided Amnesty International’s offices in Bengaluru and New Delhi after the federal investigation agency registered a case against the group based on a complaint from India’s Ministry of Home Affairs. The human rights group was also accused of violations of foreign funding rules.
The CBI had then alleged that “the provision of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act 2010 and Indian Penal Code were contravened,” adding that Amnesty India received contributions from Amnesty International in the United Kingdom despite government restrictions.
In September 2020, after an eight-year stint in India, Amnesty International said that it was halting work in India due to a “continuing crackdown” and “harassment” by the government of Prime Minister Modi.
The human rights watchdog had said the bank account of its India branch had been frozen by the right-wing government, forcing it to lay off staff and stop campaign and research work in the South Asian nation.
However, the Indian government rebutted the allegations, calling them unfortunate, exaggerated and “far from the truth”.
“All the glossy statements about humanitarian work and speaking truth to power are nothing but a ploy to divert attention from their activities which were in clear contravention of laid down Indian laws.”
Patel believes this is all targeted and is meant to “stop people from speaking out”.
“They target people specifically. The government said in court that I should not be allowed to go to the US. They knew I was leaving. Why did they not tell me that there was another lookout circular from the CBI? I could’ve fought it in court. This is denial of rights without giving the information to the person whose rights you are denying.”