WASHINGTON: On Monday, a US government panel repeated proposals to blacklist India for religious freedom and to remove exceptions that allow Pakistan to avoid the ramifications of such a designation.
In its 2023 report, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan organization with a congressional mandate, listed 15 countries as countries of particular concern (CPC).
Afghanistan, Burma (Myanmar), China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Russia, Nicaragua, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Syria, North Korea, and Tajikistan are also on the list.
A country’s classification can have major ramifications, but the US administration does not always follow the commission’s recommendations. Since 2019, India has been on the list but has never been designated. Washington is concerned that such an action may jeopardize its efforts to create a close relationship with India in order to oppose China.
The most recent report also calls for the examination of waivers granted to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
The 2023 report not only reiterates its request for India to be designated, but also advises the government to reconsider waivers granted to four other designated countries: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
The suggestion for India emphasises that under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the treatment of religious minorities in India has deteriorated.
The commission requests that the administration:
Declare India a country of special concern for “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”
Through bilateral and multilateral involvement, advance human rights for all religious communities in India and promote religious freedom, dignity, and interfaith dialogue.
Condemn continued religious violations and lend support to religious organization and human rights organizations targeted for advocating for religious freedom. Impose targeted sanctions on Indian government institutions and officials responsible for serious abuses of religious freedom, such as freezing their assets and/or restricting their admission into the US.
Mr Modi was forbidden from entering the US following riots targeting Muslims in 2002, but the ban was overturned after he was elected prime minister. The commission requests that the US Congress:
Raise religious freedom concerns in the bilateral relationship between the United States and India through hearings, briefings, letters, and congressional delegations.
According to the 2023 report, there has been violence and damage of religious properties in India, particularly those belonging to Muslims and Christians. It also refers to statements and social media posts by Modi administration officials advocating for the targeting of religious minorities.
“The continued enforcement of discriminatory laws facilitated a culture of impunity for widespread campaigns of threats and violence by mobs and vigilante groups,” according to the report.
The commission’s report on Pakistan urges for the country to be reclassified as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, for “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” It calls for the waiver to be lifted, which allows the administration to avoid doing otherwise legislatively necessary action under the designation.
The commission also recommends: Entering into a binding agreement with the Pakistani government to promote significant efforts to remedy religious freedom breaches using benchmarks such as, but not limited to: Release blasphemy convicts and those people imprisoned because of their religion or beliefs; Repeal blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya legislation; in the meanwhile, institute measures to make blasphemy a bailable offence and require accusers to provide evidence.
The commission proposes that religious self-identification criteria be removed from identity documents and advises changing educational textbooks, curricula, and teacher training materials.
The commission also demands the release of Pakistani religious prisoners of conscience, including Junaid Hafeez, Asif Pervaiz, Notan Lal, Zafar Bhatti, and Aneeqa Ateeq.