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USCIRF Expresses Concern Over India's 'Targeting' of Journalists and Transnational 'Repression' of Minorities

The US government entity has recommended each year since 2020 that the US Department of State designate India as a Country of Particular Concern, most recently in its 2023 Annual Report.

Image for representational purpose. Credit: The Indian Express

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said on Friday in a statement that the federal government entity is “deeply concerned by India’s transnational repression against religious minorities” and suggested that the US Department of State designate India as a ‘Country of Particular Concern (CPC)’.

It highlighted the recent efforts by the Indian government to “silence activists, journalists, and lawyers abroad” and “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief” and said that it poses a serious threat to religious freedom.

“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 United States 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 violations and designate it as a country of particular concern (CPC),” he added.

USCIRF says that it is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyse and report on religious freedom abroad.

In November 2023, the U.S. Department of Justice had 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 United States and Canada.

“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,” said USCIRF Commissioner David Curry.

He added, “Extending this repression to target religious minorities from India living abroad, including intimidation tactics against journalists, is especially dangerous and cannot be ignored. We urge the U.S. 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.”

The USCIRF statement added, “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. Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s State Visit to the United States in June, comments from the head of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) information and technology department, Amit Malviya, prompted an online campaign against U.S. Wall Street Journal journalist Sabrina Siddiqui for posing a question about religious freedom conditions in India.”

The US government entity has recommended each year since 2020 that the US Department of State designate India as a CPC, most recently in its 2023 Annual Report. USCIRF also published an issue update on India’s state-level anti-conversion laws, providing further context on India’s use of these laws to target religious minorities. In September 2023, USCIRF held a hearing on religious freedom conditions in India and how the U.S. government can work with the Indian government to address violations.

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