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New Delhi: After the US Commission for International Religious Freedom expressed concern about harassment of “critical voices” by the Indian government, the ministry of external affairs on Saturday, July 2, hit back saying that the “biased” comments raised questions about the US federal entity’s “credibility”.
The USCIRF, a bipartisan, independent government agency funded by the State Department, had commented on its Twitter account about the recent arrests of human rights activist Teesta Setalvad and journalist Mohammad Zubair.
In a series of tweets on Friday, July 1 night, USCIRF tagged two media articles that reported on the arrests of Setalvad and Zubair.
“USCIRF is concerned about the Indian government’s continued repression of critical voices – especially religious minorities and those reporting on and advocating for them,” said the USCIRF, quoting Commissioner David Curry.
In the following tweet, USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck noted, “Human rights advocates, journalists, activists, and faith leaders in India face harassment for speaking out and reporting religious freedom conditions. This is not reflective of a country with a history of democracy,” it stated.
The Commission concluded its tweet thread by reminding that USCIRF had recommended that India be designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” for the “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including the repression of critical voices speaking out against these violations”.
USCIRF recommends #India be designated as a CPC for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including the repression of critical voices speaking out against these violations.
Read more in USCIRF’s 2022 Annual Report: https://t.co/uradREABDk
— USCIRF (@USCIRF) July 1, 2022
The USCIRF has been making this recommendation in its annual reports since 2020. However, the US state department has not accepted this proposal so far.
In response to the USCIRF tweets, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi stated that the government had “seen the biased and inaccurate comments on India by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)”.
“These comments reflect a severe lack of understanding of India and its constitutional framework, its plurality and its democratic ethos,” he said.
Bagchi asserted that USCIRF has continuously misrepresented “facts time and again in its statements and reports in pursuance of its motivated agenda”. “Such actions only serve to strengthen concerns about the credibility and objectivity of the organization,” he noted.
At the launch of the US state department’s annual report on international religious freedom last month, US secretary of state Anthony Blinken highlighted “rising attacks on people and places of worship” in India during his oral remarks.
The annual report observed in the ‘India’ chapter that attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, “occurred throughout the year”. It stated that most of the incidents were reported in states ruled by the BJP and included attacks on pastors, disruption of worship services, and vandalism.
In response to Blinken’s words, MEA pushed back by accusing Washington of indulging in “votebank politics” in international relations. The Indian response also claimed that New Delhi regularly raised “concern” over “racially and ethnically motivated attacks, hate crimes and gun violence” in the US.
The MEA’s response to Blinken mirrored the remarks of Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankar in April.
At the press briefing after the ‘two plus two’ summit in Washington, Blinken said that the US was monitoring the “rise in human rights abuses by some government, police and prison officials” in India.
While neither Jaishankar nor Singh commented on these remarks at the press briefing, Jaishankar retorted two days later that “lobbies” and “votebanks” were allegedly driving these concerns articulated by Blinken.