A democracy like India should respect the right to protest, said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry here on Wednesday.
Speaking at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, Mr. Kerry said: “We have to respect the rights of all our citizens, regardless of ethnicity, language, creed and allow them to protest in peace without fear of retribution and reprisals, without the fear of being jailed for what you say.”
Mr. Kerry spoke about upholding common democratic values even as Joint Statement after the conclusion of the second Strategic and Commercial Dialogue (S&CD) emphasised the role of democratic values by saying the “strategic partnership between the United States and India is rooted in shared values of freedom, democracy, universal human rights, tolerance and pluralism, equal opportunities for all citizens and rule of law.”
The comments are significant as the rights group Amnesty was accused of sedition by Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad after it organised an event on Kashmir where pro-freedom slogans were allegedly raised. This was the third time senior American officials have commented on freedom-related issues in India.
Earlier, U.S. ambassador Richard Verma supported campus politics in JNU, where students were accused of sedition after they participated in a Kashmir solidarity protest. U.S. President Obama in his January 2015 speech at the Sirifort Auditorium had led the way by first cautioning about the dangers of intolerance.
Later, speaking to students, Mr. Kerry commented about the election season in the U.S. where Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are slugging it out.
American support to right to protest was the highlight of a monsoon-drenched day that Mr. Kerry concluded with a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi whom he briefed about the S&CD.
A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office after the meeting said that Mr. Kerry and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker briefed the Prime Minister about the dialogue and, “shared perspective on developments in the region and beyond with Prime Minister”.
The meeting was a warm up session before a possible bilateral meet between President Obama and Prime Minister Modi on the sidelines of the September 4-5 G-20 summit in Hangzhou, China, the first time top leaders will be meeting after the signing of the landmark LEMOA deal.
In a Joint Statement, both sides emphasised the importance of “freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea, where China continues its building activities despite the July 12 verdict from the Permanent Court of Arbitration, The Hague, which criticised China’s claim on the maritime zone.
Resolution of disputes Asking China to pay heed to the PCA’s verdict, the statement said both sides “urged the utmost respect for international law, as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). They reiterated that States should resolve disputes through peaceful means, and exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that could complicate or escalate disputes affecting peace and stability.”
During his interaction at IIT Delhi, Mr. Kerry said the South China Sea dispute needed to be dealt with peacefully and cited India’s record in respecting international law in maritime issues.
“India’s decision to accept an international tribunal judgement regarding its maritime border with Bangladesh actually stands apart,” he said in appraisal of India’s support to the PCA’s verdict to the 40-year-old maritime dispute with Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal.
Kerry extends his stay
In a surprise development, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry extended his visit to India, putting off his departure by at least a day.
“Due to his travel to China for the G-20 summit this weekend, John Kerry will extend his stay in India,” said deputy spokesperson of the U.S. State Department Mark Toner on Wednesday.
Embassy sources said the extension had come as Mr. Kerry had been asked to attend the G-20 summit in Hangzhou, China. The reason for this is a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whom he has been talking with, on a solution to the Syrian crisis. Mr. Kerry met with Mr. Lavrov last Friday in Geneva, where both sides had agreed to work out some “technical issues” in a peace plan, which they hoped to resolve in “days” along with Turkey and other actors.
Mr. Kerry’s decision took the government by surprise, as his final engagement in Delhi was to have been a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday afternoon.