The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has urged the Biden administration to categorize India as a "country of particular concern."
The USCIRF expressed its concern in a statement, highlighting what it called India's escalating international pursuit of religious minorities and their advocates.
USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck expressed 'deep concern' over the alleged involvement of New Delhi in the assassination of Khalistani separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada and an alleged plot to murder Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in the United States. Schneck suggested that these incidents mark a significant intensification of India's attempts to suppress religious minorities and human rights advocates both domestically and internationally.
“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),” Schneck said.
The USCIRF statement further elaborated that transnational repression is the act of states employing intimidation, harassment, or violence on individuals residing beyond their boundaries. This form of repression frequently targets activists advocating for political and human rights, journalists, and individuals from religious and ethnic minorities. The most severe tactics used encompass detention, retaliation against relatives, abduction, and in extreme instances like in India, assassinations.
The U.S. watchdog for religious freedom also referred to the indictment issued by the U.S. Department of Justice in November, which accused an Indian national of orchestrating a plot from India to allegedly assassinate Khalistan separatist, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, in New York. The indictment indicated that this Indian national was accused of collaborating with Nikhil Gupta, a 52-year-old Indian citizen also known as Nick. Gupta was arrested by authorities in the Czech Republic on June 30th of this year and is facing charges of conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire and murder-for-hire.
The statement further alleged that the Indian authorities have employed online harassment campaigns and spyware to threaten and suppress journalists and activists overseas who are advocating for religious minorities.
David Curry, a commissioner at USCIRF, expressed his concern over the Indian government's continuous use of stringent laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and anti-conversion laws within its own territory. These laws, he noted, have been systematically utilized to suppress religious minorities, journalists, and activists. He further highlighted the alarming trend of this repression extending to target religious minorities from India who are residing abroad, which includes the use of intimidation tactics against journalists. Curry stressed that this situation is particularly dangerous and requires immediate attention.
The USCIRF strongly recommended that the US government maintain its active dialogue with top Indian officials and global partners to guarantee that religious minorities have the freedom to live and express their beliefs without fear of retaliation, whether in India or any other place.
In response to the US's claim of a thwarted assassination attempt, New Delhi previously stated last month that such an incident was a "cause for worry" and "in conflict with the policy of the Indian government".
The USCIRF, in its 2023 yearly report on religious freedom, urged the US State Department to categorize India as a "country of particular concern" regarding religious freedom status, alongside numerous other nations. Since 2020, the USCIRF has consistently made similar suggestions to the State Department, none of which have been accepted to date.
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