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Watchdog urges US to designate India as ‘country of particular concern’

USCIRF points to efforts by India to silence activists, journalists, lawyers abroad

A US has once again called on the Biden administration to designate India as a “country of particular concern” under the US Religious Freedom Act. The commission cites concerns over India’s alleged targeting of religious minorities, both domestically and abroad.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent federal government commission, specifically points to recent efforts by the Indian government to silence activists, journalists, and lawyers abroad as posing a serious threat to religious freedom.

“USCIRF implores the US Department of State to designate India a Country of Particular Concern due to India’s systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief,” it said in a statement.

Calling it “deeply troubling”, the commission also expresses deep concern about the Indian government’s alleged involvement in the killing of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada and a plot to kill another Sikh activist, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, in the United States.

The Indian government has denied any involvement in the plot and routinely denies any discrimination against religious minorities in the Hindu-majority country.

Earlier this month, federal prosecutors in Manhattan said an Indian national worked with an unnamed Indian government employee on the plot to assassinate a New York City resident who advocated for Khalistan, a sovereign Sikh state in northern India. India’s government has denied involvement in the plot.

However, USCIRF has recommended designating India as a “country of particular concern” each year since 2020, citing systematic and ongoing violations of religious freedom. The designation leads to a range of policy responses, including sanctions or waivers, but they are not automatic.

The USCIRF warns that India’s extension of domestic repression to target religious minorities abroad is a dangerous trend that cannot be ignored.

The commission’s recommendation is likely to face resistance from the Indian government, but it could also put pressure on the Biden administration to take a more critical stance on India’s human rights record.

The Indian foreign ministry has dismissed the recommendation when it was first issued in 2020, criticizing “biased and tendentious comments”.

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