INDIA – India denies visas to US panel on religious freedom

Aljazeera | June 11, 2020

India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said the government firmly repudiated the surveys of the USCIRF, which had little knowledge of the rights of Indian citizens, describing it as biased and prejudiced.

“We have also denied visas to USCIRF teams that have sought to visit India in connection with issues related to religious freedom,” he told a legislator from Modi’s governing party in a June 1 letter.

The step was taken because the government saw no grounds for a foreign entity such as the USCIRF to pronounce on the state of Indian citizens’ constitutionally protected rights, he said, adding that India would not accept any foreign interference or judgement on matters related to its sovereignty.

Reuters news agency said it has reviewed a copy of the letter to Nishikant Dubey, an MP who had raised the issue of the panel’s report in parliament.

‘Have confidence to allow visit’

USCIRF spokeswoman Danielle Saroyan Ashbahian said its team wanted to travel to India for constructive dialogue with the government.

“As a pluralistic, non-sectarian, and democratic state, and a close partner of the United States, India should have the confidence to allow our visit, which would give it the opportunity to convey its views directly to USCIRF in a constructive dialogue,” she said in an email.

Since taking power in 2014, India’s Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has faced criticism for attacks on Muslims and other minorities.

In its report in April, the USCIRF had called for the world’s biggest democracy to be designated a “country of particular concern”, along with China, Iran, Russia and Syria

The panel had urged sanctions against officials in Modi’s government after it excluded Muslims from the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed in December last year.

“In 2019, religious freedom conditions in India experienced a drastic turn downward, with religious minorities under increasing assault,” the report said.

The USCIRF is a bipartisan US government advisory body that monitors religious freedom abroad and makes non-binding policy recommendations.

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