US religious freedom survey: India denies visa to teams advising Congress

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After the United States called out India on the state of religious freedom in its International Religious Freedom (IRF) survey, the Government of India denied visas to teams of a non-governmental advisory body to the US Congress.

On 1 June, the External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar said this in a letter to BJP MP Nishikant Dubey, who had raised the observations made by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in Parliament in December 2019, reported Indian Express.

The report further added that this April, the USCIRF had recommended to the US administration that India be designated a “country of particular concern”. It was the first time since 2004 — when its recommendation came against the backdrop of the Gujarat riots in 2002 — that the USCIRF had sought this. The USCIRF’s annual report had also named Home Minister Amit Shah twice, once recalling that he had referred to migrants as “termites” to be eradicated.

In his letter to Mr. Dubey, Mr. Jaishankar wrote: “We have denied visa to USCIRF teams that have sought to visit India in connection with issues related to religious freedom, as we do not see the locus standi of a foreign entity like USCIRF to pronounce on the state of Indian citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.”

It cited the CAA-NRC issue, the scrapping of special status of Jammu and Kashmir and the Delhi riots in February. The USCIRF said the CAA and NPR moves were first steps towards a national NRC.

The minister added, “USCIRF has been known to make prejudiced, inaccurate and misleading observations regarding the state of religious freedom in India. We do not take cognisance of these pronouncements and have repudiated such attempts to misrepresent information related to India.”

Mr. Jaishankar also noted that the MEA had earlier rejected the USCIRF’s statements as “inaccurate and unwarranted”. He said India “will not accept any external interference or pronouncement on matters related to our sovereignty and the fundamental rights of our citizens that are guaranteed by the Constitution”.

In its report in April, the USCIRF had said religious freedom in India had seen a “drastic turn downward”, with religious minorities under “increasing assault” in 2019, and talked of “rising Islamophobia”.

The USCIRF recommended that the Trump administration “impose targeted sanctions on Indian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ assets and/ or barring their entry into the United States… citing specific religious freedom violations”.

At the time the report came out, India had said the USCIRF’s “biased and tendentious” comments against the country were “not new”, but that, on this occasion, “its misrepresentation has reached new levels”.

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