New Delhi      -   Amnesty International has suspended its Indian operations after its bank accounts were frozen in what it called a government “witch-hunt” against rights groups.

Government critics within civil society organisations and the media have long complained of harassment in the world’s biggest democracy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist administration, something which it denies.

Amnesty said that as of earlier this month it could no longer access its bank accounts in India, forcing it to let go of staff and “pause” all ongoing campaign and research work.

“This is the latest in the incessant witch-hunt of human rights organizations by the Government of India over unfounded and motivated allegations,” it said in a statement.

It said the freezing of its accounts was “no accident” after it issued a series of reports alleging “grave human rights violations” by police in deadly sectarian riots in New Delhi in February, and by security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir.

“Treating human rights organisations like criminal enterprises and dissenting individuals as criminals without any credible evidence is a deliberate attempt... to stoke a climate of fear and dismantle the critical voices in India,” said Avinash Kumar, Amnesty India’s executive director.

But the government on Tuesday accused Amnesty of “illegal practices” involving the transfer of “large amounts of money” from Amnesty UK to India, something which also created problems with the previous administration.

“This bipartisan and purely legal approach towards Amnesty, under different governments, makes it clear that the entire fault lies in the dubious processes adopted by Amnesty to secure funds for its operations,” it said.