Amnesty International’s former India chief said on Wednesday he was stopped from flying to the United States because of government legal action against the human rights watchdog.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has long been accused of trying to silence critics, and activists say they have been targeted for harassment since he took office in 2014.

Aakar Patel said he was stopped from boarding his flight to the United States at the airport in the southern city of Bangalore because he was on an “exit control list”.

He wrote on Twitter that he was then contacted by the country’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and told he was prevented from leaving “because of the case Modi govt has filed against Amnesty International India”. Amnesty has been a vocal critic of the Modi government’s treatment of minorities and alleged abuses by Indian security forces in held Kashmir.

It halted its India operations in 2020 after the government froze its bank accounts in what the group said was part of an official “witch hunt”. Amnesty’s Bangalore offices had been raided two years earlier by the Enforcement Directorate, which investigates financial crimes in India.

The group had also faced sedition charges, later dropped, over a 2016 event to discuss human rights violations in held Kashmir.

Amnesty on Wednesday called on Indian authorities to allow Patel to fly.

“For Aakar, who dares to raise his voice peacefully and consistently against injustice, a travel ban is nothing but retaliation from the Indian government against his activism,” said the watchdog’s deputy secretary general Kyle Ward. Last week, prominent Indian activist and writer Rana Ayyub was prevented from flying to London to speak about the intimidation of journalists in India.

Ayyub, a fierce government critic, tweeted that she was stopped at Mumbai airport because of a probe into an alleged money laundering case against her.


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