‘Country of Particular Concern’ tag recommended for India

US watchdog
  • US religious freedom watchdog has made this recommendation for the fourth consecutive time

WASHINGTON: In a significant development, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has urged the Biden administration to designate India as a ‘Country of Particular Concern (CPC)’ for the fourth consecutive time.

The watchdog cited India’s “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief,” expressing deep concern over the increased transnational targeting of religious minorities and their advocates.

The USCIRF, in its latest report, highlighted the Indian government’s efforts to silence activists, journalists, and lawyers abroad, characterising it as a serious threat to religious freedom. Despite the alarming findings, the Government of India is yet to issue an official statement regarding the report.

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This recommendation follows a rare year-end report by USCIRF, released months ago, which asserted that religious freedom and associated human rights in India continued to face threats. India, in response to the claims made in May 2023, had vehemently denounced the report as “biased and inaccurate,” accusing the organization of being motivated by its own biases.

The USCIRF’s statement also referenced recent international allegations linking India to the killing of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada and accusations of an Indian national plotting to murder Khalistani leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in the United States. USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck called on the Biden administration to acknowledge India’s “perpetration of particularly severe religious freedom violations” and designate it as a country of particular concern.

Explaining the concept of transnational repression, the watchdog emphasised that states engaging in such practices use intimidation, harassment, or violence against individuals outside their borders. The report pointed to the November 2023 indictment by the US Department of Justice, alleging the Indian government’s attempt to assassinate a Sikh activist, intending to trigger additional killings in the United States and Canada.

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Furthermore, USCIRF highlighted the Indian government’s use of spyware and online harassment campaigns to target journalists and activists advocating for religious minorities abroad. The report condemned the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) as a “draconian” legislation and criticised its use, along with anti-conversion laws, to suppress religious minorities, journalists, and activists within India.

USCIRF emphasised its consistent recommendation since 2020 for the US Department of State to designate India as a CPC. It also underscored its ongoing efforts to address religious freedom conditions in India through hearings and engagement with the Indian government, despite India’s continuous rejection of the allegations.

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