U.S. panel on religious freedom urges targeted sanctions on India

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A U.S. government commission has criticised India for failing to protect religious minorities and called for sanctions on government officials responsible for violating religious freedoms enshrined in its constitution.

The Indian government rejected the annual report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom saying it had distorted reality to new levels.

Since it was re-elected to power last year, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has introduced policies hurtful to the country’s 172 million Muslims and allowed a campaign of hate and violence against them, the commission said in its report released late on Tuesday.

It criticised a new citizenship law that parliament enacted last year laying out a path for citizenship for six religious groups from neighbouring countries excluding Muslims.

“The national and various state governments also allowed nationwide campaigns of harassment and violence against religious minorities to continue with impunity, and engaged in and tolerated hate speech and incitement to violence against them,” the commission said.

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

India should be designated a “country of particular concern”, the worst category in its survey, because of the sharp downturn in religious freedom in 2019, the commission said.

Myanmar, China, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Russia and Vietnam are among the 14 countries in that category.

The commission also urged the U.S. government to “impose targeted sanctions on Indian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ assets and/ or barring their entry into the United States.”

It did not identify any agencies or officials it deemed responsible.

The Indian foreign ministry dismissed the findings of the commission saying it had crossed a new threshold.

“Its biased and tendentious comments against India are not new. But on this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels,” ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said.

He said some of the members of the commission had dissented from its conclusions. Two of them wrote in their dissenting notes that India, the world’s largest democracy, could not be put in the same group as China and North Korea run by authoritarian regimes.

“It has not been able to carry its own commissioners in its endeavour. We regard it as an organisation of particular concern and will treat it accordingly,” Srivastava said.

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