USCIRF raises Alarm over India’s Growing Transnational Repression against Religious MinoritiesDecember 26, 2023
In a recent statement, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed deep concern over India’s escalating transnational repression targeting religious minorities and advocates on their behalf. The commission urged the U.S. Department of State to designate India as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) due to its systematic and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief.
According to USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck, the alleged involvement of the Indian government in the killing of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada and a plot to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in the United States signifies a severe escalation in India’s efforts to stifle religious minorities and human rights defenders, both domestically and internationally.
Transnational repression, as defined by USCIRF, involves states using intimidation, harassment, or violence against individuals living beyond their borders. Such campaigns often target political activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and members of religious and ethnic minority groups. In extreme cases, tactics include detention, reprisals against family members, kidnapping, and even assassinations.
A notable example of India’s transnational repression is the recent indictment by the U.S. Department of Justice, alleging the Indian government’s attempt to assassinate a Sikh activist to instigate a series of additional killings in the United States and Canada.
Furthermore, USCIRF highlights the use of spyware and online harassment campaigns by Indian authorities to intimidate journalists and activists advocating for religious minorities abroad. This tactic was evident in an online campaign against U.S. Wall Street Journal journalist Sabrina Siddiqui following her question about religious freedom conditions in India during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s State Visit to the United States.
Within India, USCIRF points out that authorities have consistently employed draconian legislation like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and anti-conversion laws to suppress religious minorities, journalists, and activists. The commission emphasizes that extending this repression to target religious minorities from India living abroad, including intimidating journalists, is particularly perilous and cannot be overlooked.
USCIRF has been recommending the designation of India as a CPC annually since 2020, as highlighted in its 2023 Annual Report. Additionally, the commission has published an issue update on India’s state-level anti-conversion laws, providing further context on how these laws are utilized to target religious minorities. In September 2023, USCIRF conducted a hearing on religious freedom conditions in India, stressing the importance of active engagement between the U.S. government, senior Indian officials, and international partners to ensure the safety and freedom of expression for religious minorities, both within India and abroad.