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India denies visas to US government panel on religious freedom

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Security personnel patrol a street following sectarian riots over India’s new citizenship law, in New Delhi, India, on February 28, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

India has denied visas to members of a US government panel who were tasked with reviewing the South Asian country’s religious freedom, after the Hindu-majority country came under criticism for discriminating against Muslims.

The delegation, from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), had been scheduled to leave for India on Friday.

However, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said New Delhi turned down the USCIRF’s travel request because the agency had no standing to assess Indian citizens’ constitutional rights.

“The step (denial of visas) was taken because the government saw no grounds for a foreign entity such as the USCIRF to pronounce on the state of Indian citizens’ constitutionally protected rights,” Jaishankar told a lawmaker from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party in a June 1 letter. “India would not accept any foreign interference or judgment on matters related to its sovereignty.”

Reuters has reviewed a copy of the letter.

USCIRF previously called for India to be designated a “country of particular concern,” urging sanctions against officials from Modi’s government after it introduced a law widely considered as anti-Muslim.

The controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), supported by Modi’s right-wing, Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was passed in December last year, triggering waves of massive protests.

It allows granting citizenship to millions of migrants — with the exception of Muslims — who legally or illegally came into India from Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Afghanistan before December 2014.

Recent weeks have also seen increased violence against the Muslim minority in India.

The call by the US government agency comes as Washington itself is under fire for its brutality against African Americans and minorities in general, with tens of thousands of people in cities across the US staging huge rallies to protest persisting police brutality and racial profiling.

The latest brutal killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a white policeman knelt on his neck during an arrest in Minneapolis, has also sparked unprecedented protest events throughout the country in the past week.

Floyd’s death has reignited long-felt anger over police killings of African Americans and unleashed a nationwide wave of civil unrest unlike any seen in the US since Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 assassination.

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