Government calls U.S. body on religious freedom ‘biased’

USCIRF had expressed “concerns” over the treatment of minorities, human rights advocates and media

July 02, 2022 07:27 pm | Updated 11:12 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

Demonstrators hold placards during a protest in Mumbai on June 27, 2022, demanding the release of activists Teesta Setalvad, R.B. Sreekumar and Sanjeev Bhatt.

Demonstrators hold placards during a protest in Mumbai on June 27, 2022, demanding the release of activists Teesta Setalvad, R.B. Sreekumar and Sanjeev Bhatt. | Photo Credit: AFP

The government on July 2 took aim once again at the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) over comments expressing “concerns” over the treatment of minorities, human rights advocates and media, which follow its report this year downgrading India’s ratings on religious freedom.

“USCIRF continues to misrepresent facts time and again in its statements and reports in pursuance of its motivated agenda. Such actions only serve to strengthen concerns about the credibility and objectivity of the organization,” the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson said, responding to a series of tweets posted on the USCIRF handle that criticised the Modi government.

The tweets included a comment by USCIRF Commissioner David Curry, who accused the government of “continued repression of critical voices — especially religious minorities and those reporting on and advocating for them”, attaching a media report about the arrest of Gujarat activists Teesta Setalvad, R.B. Sreekumar and Sanjeev Bhatt.

Another comment by USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck said that harassment of “human rights advocates, journalists, activists, and faith leaders in India is not reflective of a country with a history of democracy”.

The tweet included a report on the arrest of fact-checker and co-founder of Alt News Mohammed Zubair, who was denied bail again on Saturday in a case alleging that he had offended religious sentiments in a tweet he posted in 2018 which carried a still from a 1983 Hindi movie.

The USCIRF also repeated its demand based on its report on religious freedoms published in April 2022 that India be designated a “Country of Particular Concern(CPC)“ for its “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including the repression of critical voices speaking out against these violations”.

While the U.S. State Department had in its religious freedom report released in June 2022 also criticised India, it had not accepted the recommendation to add India to the CPC list maintained by the U.S. government.

Even so, the MEA had slammed the comments by the U.S. State Department, saying it showed that “vote bank politics” was being practised in international relations.

In its latest response, the MEA called the USCIRF comments “biased and inaccurate”. The comments reflected a severe lack of understanding of India and its constitutional framework, its plurality and its democratic ethos, the MEA said.

The comments are the latest in a growing number of critical comments in the U.S. over the issue. On July 1, the U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain said he was worried about calls for “genocide” within India, and criticised what he called Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s “dehumanising” reference to Bangladeshi immigrants as “termites”. He, however, didn’t name Mr. Shah.

“India now has a citizenship law that’s on the books. We’ve had open calls for genocide in India. We’ve had attacks on churches. We have had a ban on the hijab. We’ve had demolitions of homes," Ambassador Hussain said at a conference in Washington DC.

On June 27, U.S. Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar introduced a resolution in the U.S House of Representatives, co-sponsored by Congresspersons Jim McGovern, Rashida Tlaib and Juan Vargas, which also criticised the Indian government’s human rights record and called on the U.S. Secretary of State to designate India as a CPC.

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