USCIRF flags India for violations of religious freedom

Indian American Muslim Council welcomes watchdog recommendation; asks State department to impose targeted sanctions

For the third consecutive year, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended to the US State Department to designate India as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC).

India is among 15 countries, the independent US watchdog placed in CPC, a category it uses for countries whose “governments engage in or tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations.”

The USCIRF Annual Report 2022, released on Monday, April 25, also placed Afghanistan, Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam, in this category.

Read: US rights groups ask USCIRF to name India for persecution of minorities (April 12, 2022)

Stating that “In 2021, religious freedom conditions in India significantly worsened,” USCIRF recommended the US should impose “targeted sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ or entities’ assets and/or barring their entry into the United States.”

In its key findings, the report said during the year” the Indian government escalated its promotion and enforcement of policies — including those promoting a Hindu-nationalist agenda — that negatively affected Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and other religious minorities.”

“The government continued to systemize its ideological vision of a Hindu state at both the national and state levels through the use of both existing and new laws and structural changes hostile to the country’s religious minorities.”

“In 2021, the Indian government repressed critical voices — especially religious minorities and those reporting on and advocating for them — through harassment, investigation, detention, and prosecution under laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Sedition Law,” the report added.

However, the recommendations of USCIRF, are not binding on the US State Department. India figure under the category of ‘Country of Particular Concern’ in 2020 and 2021 too. However, the US State Department rejected the recommendation under both Trump and Biden administrations.

In 2021, India voiced strong concern over USCIRF observations saying, “We reject the observations on India in the USCIRF Annual Report. Its biased and tendentious comments against India are not new.”

“But on this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels. It has not been able to carry its own Commissioners in its endeavour. We regard it as an organization of particular concern and will treat it accordingly,” a spokesperson of Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) then stated.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) welcomed USCIRF designation of India as a Country of Particular Concern for the third consecutive year.

“Such a designation for India, a land with a rich heritage of pluralism and religious diversity, while deeply saddening for Indians worldwide, was widely expected, given the rapidly escalating persecution of religious minorities and the Indian government’s complicity in massive violations of religious freedom,” it said in a press release.

Read: US names Pak, China as nations of concern for religious freedom violations (December 8, 2020)

“IAMC commends USCIRF for refusing to cave to the lobbying of US-based right-wing Hindu nationalist groups and making clear that the ground reality of minorities in India is of constant harassment and violence,” said Rasheed Ahmed, Executive Director of IAMC.

“Given the damning information presented in this report, US State Department officials must now act on the recommendations made by USCIRF by officially designating India as a CPC and by imposing targeted sanctions upon the Indian government to hold officials responsible for encouraging hate,” said Syed Afzal Ali, President of IAMC.

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