US experts denied entry to India

Visas denied because of criticism of lack of religious freedom (Press Release)

According to the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), India's decision not to allow a team of experts of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom to visit the country is "disconcerting" and "unworthy of a democracy". India's foreign ministry had justified the decision referring to the Commission's criticism of the lack of regional freedom in the country. "Asia's largest democracy should not try to avoid a debate about deficits in the treatment of religious minorities," stated Ulrich Delius, the STP's Director, in Göttingen on Friday, emphasizing that the commission – with its annual reports on the status of religious freedom – is an internationally renowned authority regarding evaluations of the right to practice one's faith. "A state that refuses to enter a dialogue with the independent commission – which is attached to the US State Department – is putting itself on the same level as states that systematically deny freedom of religion," Delius criticized.

India's Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar had informed an Indian parliamentarian about the notable decision in a letter, which has now become public. The minister justified his unusual step by stating that India will not tolerate interference in its internal affairs and that the country's constitution is sufficient to secure the people's civil rights. In the last annual report, published in April 2020, the commission had criticized violations of the rights of religious minorities in India. According to the report, India is one of 14 countries in which the situation regarding religious freedom is particularly worrying. In particular, the commission criticized violations of the human rights of the approximately 195 million Muslims in India. "The public protests against a discriminatory new citizenship law – which have been going on for several months – clearly show that the overall situation is quite problematic for religious minorities," Delius added. "The government should take this finding as an opportunity to substantially strengthen freedom of religion."

Under the Hindu-nationalist federal government, Christian believers are increasingly attacked by extremist Hindus, the commission emphasized. Arbitrary criminalization by anti-conversion laws, forced conversions to Hinduism, and massive intimidation and threats by fanatical Hindu are causing fear and terror among many members of the Christian minority. The Christian minority accounts for about 2.3 percent of India's total population, while almost 80 percent are Hindus.