USCIRF Urges State Department to Include India in Religious Freedom Violator List Amidst National Elections

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India is currently amidst a significant national election spanning six weeks, and amid this democratic process, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has urged the U.S. State Department to include India in its roster of countries with severe violations of religious freedom. This bipartisan commission, established under the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998, holds the authority to recommend countries for special designations to the State Department. This year, in its 25th annual report, the commission called for India’s inclusion due to escalating hate speech, particularly targeting Muslims, in the lead-up to the elections.

According to the USCIRF report, hate speech has seen a surge in India, especially directed towards Muslims, ahead of the national elections. Commissioner David Curry highlighted instances where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party have been accused of exacerbating tensions by making statements targeting religious minorities. In the northeastern state of Manipur, clashes between Hindu and Christian communities have resulted in the destruction of numerous places of worship.

The commission’s concerns extend beyond India. It has recommended that Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Nigeria, and Vietnam be designated as “countries of particular concern” (CPC) due to their poor records on religious freedom. Additionally, the commission called for the retention of CPC designation for countries like China, Cuba, Iran, and Russia, among others.

In Nigeria, religious freedom conditions have remained dire, with thousands of Christians participating in protests following deadly attacks over the Christmas season. Commissioner Eric Ueland criticized the State Department for its failure to recognize Nigeria as one of the worst violators of religious freedom, emphasizing the government’s consistent failure to prevent or punish religiously motivated violence.

Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan have also come under scrutiny, with the former being recommended for CPC designation for the first time due to its refusal to register non-Muslim religious communities and its targeting of ethnic Armenians in disputed regions. Kyrgyzstan has been added to the special watch list for its strict penalties against religious practices.

The report also flagged China and India for engaging in “transnational repression,” with governments increasingly using digital surveillance to monitor religious minorities. However, there was a positive note regarding Syria, which was moved from the worst violators list to the special watch list due to changes in the nature of violations.

Commissioner Frank Wolf emphasized the need for meaningful consequences for governments designated as CPCs, suggesting that waivers based on other U.S. interests should not be reissued for countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, which have avoided penalties for their abuses in the past.

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