Social Issues

US religious freedom panel raises alarm over India targeting minorities

New Delhi, Dec 16 (EFE).- The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has raised alarm over India’s increased transnational targeting of religious minorities and those advocating on their behalf.

The commission highlighted alleged recent efforts by the Indian government to silence activists, journalists, and lawyers abroad, which posed “a serious threat to religious freedom” in the country.

The panel implored the US Department of State to designate India “a Country of Particular Concern” in the wake of “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief.”

“The Indian government’s alleged involvement in the killing of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada and the plot to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in the US are deeply troubling, and represent a severe escalation of India’s efforts to silence religious minorities and human rights defenders both within its country and abroad,” said USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck.

“We call on the Biden administration to acknowledge the Indian government’s perpetration of particularly severe religious freedom.”

Transnational repression occurs when states use intimidation, harassment, or violence against those living outside their borders. Such repression campaigns often target political and human rights activists, journalists, and members of religious and ethnic minority groups.

In extreme cases, tactics include detention, reprisals against family members, kidnapping, or, as illustrated by India, assassinations, the USCIRF said.

In November, the US Department of Justice published an indictment alleging the Indian government’s attempt to assassinate a Sikh activist was intended to prompt a series of additional killings in the US and Canada.

In addition, Indian authorities have used spyware and online harassment campaigns to target and intimidate journalists and activists abroad advocating on behalf of religious minorities, the panel said.

The panel recalled how India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) IT department chief Amit Malviya prompted an online campaign against Wall Street Journal journalist Sabrina Siddiqui for posing a question about religious freedom conditions in India during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the US in June.

“Within its own borders, Indian authorities have repeatedly used draconian legislation like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and anti-conversion laws to systematically crack down on religious minorities, journalists, and activists,” USCIRF Commissioner David Curry said.

“Extending this repression to target religious minorities from India living abroad, including intimidation tactics against journalists, is especially dangerous and cannot be ignored.”

The panel urged the US government to continue its active engagement with senior Indian officials and international partners to ensure religious minorities can live and express themselves without fear of reprisal, whether in India or elsewhere.

USCIRF has recommended each year since 2020 that the US Department of State designate India as a CPC, most recently in its 2023 Annual Report.

India has consistently rejected the US panel’s reports, calling them a “misrepresentation of facts” and making “biased and motivated comments.” EFE

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