India has seen an increase in attacks on people (due to religious intolerance) and places of worship, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday.
“...In India, the world’s largest democracy, and home to a great diversity of faiths, we’ve seen rising attacks on people and places of worship,” Mr. Blinken said, as he released the State Department’s 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom (IRF).
The secretary also cited Vietnam and Nigeria as examples of countries where religious expression was being curtailed.
The report, which contains assessments of the state of religious freedom in countries in 2021, is compiled by the Department’s IRF department, led by the IRF Ambassador, Rashad Hussain.
The document is distinct from the IRF report released by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). In April, the Commission had recommended to the State Department, for the third year in a row, that India be classified as a ‘Country of Particular Concern (CPC)‘, the category of countries with the worst records on religious freedom. The State Department, which releases its CPC list towards the end of the calendar year, however, is not bound by USCIRF recommendations and has not, in the last three years, categorized India as a CPC.
“As the Secretary stated, in India, some officials are ignoring or even supporting rising attacks on people and places of worship,”Rashad HussainInternational Religious Freedom Ambassador
“As the Secretary stated, in India, some officials are ignoring or even supporting rising attacks on people and places of worship,” Mr. Hussain said on Thursday.
In another set of examples of countries with religious freedom restrictions, Mr. Blinken cited U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, as well as China, Pakistan and Afghanistan (where the Taliban have taken charge, following the U.S.’s chaotic exit in August last year).
“China continues its genocide and repression of predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other religious minority groups,” the Secretary said. “Since April 2017, more than 1 million Uyghurs ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and others have been detained in internment camps in Xinjiang,” he said.
In Pakistan, Mr. Blinken said, at least 16 individuals had been accused of blasphemy, or sentenced to death by courts in 2021.
‘Vital foreign policy priority’
Religious freedom is not just a fundamental right but a “vital foreign policy priority”, Mr. Blinken said on Thursday. In April, during the U.S.-India “2+2” joint press conference of defence and foreign ministers in Washington DC, Mr. Blinken had said the U.S. was tracking “recent concerning developments” with regard to human rights in India.
On Thursday, Mr. Bliken cited Morocco, Timor Leste, Taiwan and Iraq as examples of countries where progress had been made on religious freedom. He said some countries were not respecting the “basic rights” of citizens - including by using apostasy and blasphemy laws and curtailing religious expression - such as by restricting religious attire.
“Attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred throughout the year. These included incidents of ‘cow vigilantism’ against non-Hindus based on allegations of cow slaughter or trade in beef,” the India country report said.
The India segment also highlights anti-conversion laws in the country, noting that 28 states have these laws and arrests were made under them. It also notes that several State governments announced plans to introduce anti-conversion laws. However, some State-level courts had dismissed charges , the report notes, brought against individuals allegedly converting others for the purposes of marriage.
“Police arrested non-Hindus for making comments in the media or on social media that were considered offensive to Hindus or Hinduism,” the State Department noted.
“Suspected terrorists targeted and killed civilians and migrants from the Hindu and Sikh minorities, including Hindu migrant laborers from Bihar,” in Jammu and Kashmir, the report says, adding that as per reports, this caused extensive fear in the Hindu and Sikh communities , leading to an exodus of migrants from the area.
Incidents of lynching of Muslims in Tripura, Rajasthan, and Jammu and Kashmir last year are also mentioned in the report.
The document goes into the Foreign Contributions Regulations Act, which is being used by the government to constrain the functioning of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), according to the NGOs. The government, the report says, claims that the Act is used to strengthen oversight and accountability of foreign NGOs.
In a discussion of the February 2020 Delhi riots, following the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the report said:
“During the year, Delhi courts acquitted some of those arrested on charges related to the protests and convicted one Hindu participant. Various courts criticized the Delhi police for inadequate investigation of the protests. Politicians made inflammatory public remarks or social media posts about religious minorities.”