A religious freedom watchdog is urging the Biden administration to add the government of India to a list of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said this month in a press release that it was “alarmed by India’s increased transnational targeting of religious minorities and those advocating on their behalf.”
“Recent efforts by the Indian government to silence activists, journalists, and lawyers abroad pose a serious threat to religious freedom,” the group said.
USCIRF was created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). The commission “monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad,” makes “policy recommendations” to the executive branch and to Congress, and “tracks the implementation” of those suggestions, according to its website.
Advocates have lately been warning of the persecution of religious minorities in India. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the chair of USCIRF, said earlier this year that the country was in a “cycle of downward spiral” of religious discrimination. “It is quite frightening,” Cooper said at the time.
The commission this month said Indian authorities “have used spyware and online harassment campaigns to target and intimidate journalists and activists abroad advocating on behalf of religious minorities.”
The U.S. Department of Justice, meanwhile, alleged last month that an “Indian government employee” participated in a “foiled plot” to assassinate the “leader of [a] Sikh separatist movement.” Sikhs are a religious minority in the northwestern state of Punjab in India.
USCIRF in its release further noted that the Indian government was accused of “involvement in the killing of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar” in Canada earlier this year.
Commissioner Stephen Schneck said in the release that the indications of religious persecution 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.”
“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 U.S. Department of State defines a “Country of Particular Concern” as one that has “engaged in” or tolerated “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”
David Curry, another commissioner of USCIRF, said in the commission’s release this month that the Indian government has “repeatedly used draconian legislation … to systematically crack down on religious minorities, journalists, and activists.”
“We urge the U.S. government to continue its active engagement with senior Indian officials and international partners,” Curry said, “to ensure religious minorities can live and express themselves without fear of reprisal, whether in India or elsewhere.”