USCIRF Says India Should Be Listed as Top Religious Freedom Violator by State Department

Indian Muslims shout slogans during a protest rally against a new citizenship law, in Kolkata, India, on March 5, 2020. The new citizenship law fast-tracks naturalization for non-Muslim migrants from neighboring Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who are living in the country illegally. Opponents of the law say it violates India’s Constitution and further marginalizes Muslims in this Hindu-majority nation of 1.4 billion people. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)

India, which recently passed legislation that experts say is detrimental to Muslims, should be placed on the U.S. government’s list of most egregious religious freedom violators, a watchdog agency says in its new report.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed in December by the Parliament in majority-Hindu India, violates religious freedom especially for Muslims, said the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in its annual report released on Tuesday (April 28).

While the law gives Hindus and religious minorities from neighboring countries — including Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan — a fast track to citizenship, it excludes Muslims. An estimated 190 million Muslims comprise slightly less than 15% of India’s population.

“It showed the central government’s involvement in repressing religious freedom and, of course, the consequence of that can very well be millions of Muslims in detention, deportation and statelessness when the government completes its planned national register of citizens,” USCIRF Vice Chair Nadine Maenza told Religion News Service in an interview.

India is not currently on the U.S. State Department’s list of “countries of particular concern,” which cites nations that it determines have committed “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” USCIRF says it is recommending for the first time since 2004 that India be given that designation.

The 104-page report chronicled the progress and failures on religious freedom in 29 countries over the course of 2019.

The United States Commission on
International Religious Freedom 2020
Annual Report. Image courtesy of

The other two key recommendations in the new report are about two countries that USCIRF, concurring with the State Department, says should be on the department’s second-tier “special watch list”: Sudan and Uzbekistan.

The report notes “remarkable” changes in Sudan after the removal of former President Omar al-Bashir in April last year. “The transitional constitution no longer identifies Islam as the primary source of law, and it includes a provision ensuring the freedom of belief and worship,” the commission said.

Although the watchdog group said more work is needed, including the repeal of blasphemy laws, it recommends that the State Department put Sudan on its special watch list, an action the State Department already took in its latest designations in late December.

Uzbekistan, likewise, was recognized for “significant steps” toward religious liberty. “In August, in a move recommended by USCIRF, the government announced it would close the infamous Jasliq Prison where, in the past, two religious prisoners had been boiled alive,” the commission noted.

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Source: Religion News Service