India, Russia, China Target Faith Communities: US Report

A high-ranking US official expressed concerns over numerous governments, such as Russia, India, China, and Saudi Arabia, persistently engaging in the targeted persecution of individuals belonging to religious communities. This statement came alongside the release of the State Department’s annual report on international religious freedom, which is required by Congress and provides an extensive account of the state of religious freedom worldwide. The report meticulously documents the status of religious freedom in various countries around the globe.

At a press conference held shortly after Secretary of State Anthony Blinken released the annual 2022 “Report on International Religious Freedom,” Rashad Hussain, Ambassador at Large for the Office of International Religious Freedom, addressed reporters, stating that there are an alarming number of governments that continue to target members of faith communities within their own borders.

According to Blinken, the report presents a comprehensive and fact-based assessment of the state of religious freedom in nearly 200 countries and territories across the globe. Its primary objective is to shed light on areas where freedom of religion or belief is suppressed, in order to foster accountability and ultimately work towards a world where such freedoms are realized universally.

During the press conference, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken did not specifically mention India in his remarks. The India section of the annual report largely resembles previous years’ findings, focusing on allegations of religious freedom violations reported by various media outlets and non-governmental organizations both within and outside the country.

Ambassador Rashad Hussain did mention India in relation to the report’s key findings regarding governments that target faith communities. He highlighted the condemnation by legal advocates and religious leaders across India’s diverse religious groups regarding a case of severe hate speech against Muslims in the city of Haridwar. These advocates called for the preservation of India’s historical traditions of pluralism and tolerance. Additionally, Hussain mentioned the ongoing repression of the Rohingya population by the military regime in Burma, resulting in many Rohingya people being displaced from their homes. Alongside Russia, China, and Afghanistan, these were among the countries mentioned by Hussain.

Rashad Hussain expressed his intention to share significant findings from this year’s report, focusing on governmental and societal discrimination and hatred towards religious communities. The section dedicated to India in the report highlighted instances of violence committed by law enforcement against religious minorities in various states. These included the public flogging of four Muslim men by plainclothes police in Gujarat, who were accused of injuring Hindu worshippers during a festival in October. The report also mentioned the demolition of Muslim-owned houses and shops by the Madhya Pradesh government following communal violence in Khargone in April.

Regarding efforts to address these issues, the report noted that in September, Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the Rasthtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), met with five prominent members of the Muslim community to understand their concerns and discuss ways to promote harmony between Muslims and Hindus. Bhagwat committed to continued meetings with the aim of improving relations between the two communities. He also visited a madrassah run by the All India Imam Organisation, where he met with Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, the organization’s head.

Media reports indicated that while some Muslim groups welcomed Bhagwat’s engagement, others viewed it as mere optics and preparation for the upcoming 2024 parliamentary elections. The report highlighted that in 2021, Bhagwat had publicly stated that Hindus and Muslims should be treated equally, without discrimination based on religion, and that killing non-Hindus for cow slaughter goes against Hinduism.

Nury Turkel, Chair of the US Commission for International Religious Freedom, emphasized the importance of the International Religious Freedom Report as a tool to hold violators accountable and improve the global conditions of religious freedom. He praised the State Department’s commitment to this fundamental value by releasing the report.

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