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India denies visas to US panel on religious freedom, MEA calls it biased and prejudiced

Reuters NEW DELHI | Updated on June 12, 2020 Published on June 12, 2020

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar (File photo)   -  PTI

India has turned down a travel request for members of a US government panel seeking to review its religious freedom, saying such foreign agencies had no standing to assess the constitutional rights of citizens.

Since taking power in 2014, the Indian government has faced criticism for attacks on Muslims and the panel has called for the world's biggest democracy to be designated a “country of particular concern”, along with China, Iran, Russia and Syria.

The call by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) was made in an April report urging sanctions against officials of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government after it excluded minority Muslims from a new citizenship law.

Foreign Minister SJaishankar said the government firmly repudiated the surveys of the commission, which had little knowledge of the rights of Indian citizens, describing it as biased and prejudiced. “We have also denied visas to USCIRF teams that have sought to visit India in connection with issues related to religious freedom,” he told a BJP MP in a June 1 letter.

The step was taken because the government saw no grounds for a foreign entity such as the USCIRF to pronounce on the state of Indian citizens' constitutionally protected rights, he added.

Reuters has reviewed a copy of the letter to Nishikant Dubey, an MP who had raised the issue of the panel's report in parliament.

‘Constructive dialogue’

USCIRF spokeswoman Danielle Saroyan Ashbahian said its team wanted to travel to India for constructive dialogue with the government.“As a pluralistic, non-sectarian, and democratic state, and a close partner of the United States, India should have the confidence to allow our visit, which would give it the opportunity to convey its views directly to USCIRF in a constructive dialogue,” she said in an email.

The commission is a bipartisan US government advisory body that monitors religious freedom abroad and makes policy recommendations to the president, the secretary of state, and Congress. However, these are not binding.

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Published on June 12, 2020
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