WASHINGTON – A US Congress-established panel on religious freedom has called on the Obama administration to maintain a visa ban on Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, saying there was “significant evidence” linking him to communal riots in the state in 2002.
“There is significant evidence linking him to the violence and the terrible events that took place in Gujarat and for this reason, a visa would not be appropriate,” Katrina Lantos Swett, chairwoman of the US commission for international religious freedom (USCIRF) told reporters today during a press conference held to release its annual report. The report noted the conviction of Modi’s former ministerial colleague Maya Kodnani, but cited widely reported media stories “that many in the Muslim community believe she was the ‘fall guy’ for Narendra Modi.”
Modi has been in the US no-entry list since 2005. Some US lawmakers and business interests have in recent months have sough revocation of the ban amid broader acceptance for Modi in the European Union and East Asia, but other lawmakers, gee’d up by leftist and liberal Indian-Americans, have argued for continuing the ban, pressing the administration not to ease up.
Although, the USCIRF report notes that India has a spectacularly diverse political leadership, including a Sikh Prime Minister, past Muslim presidents and a catholic head of the ruling governing alliance, it has not held back the body from placing India in the Tier 2 countries on religious freedom along with that of seven other countries Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos and Russia. Tier 2 countries are where religious persecution and other violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the governments are increasing, and where at least one of three conditions — “systematic, ongoing, egregious” — is met.
For the 2013 Annual Report, USCIRF has recommended that the secretary of state to re-designate eight countries as countries of particular concern (CPCs) where all three conditions are met: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. Seven other countries lacking in total religious freedom also meet the CPC threshold: Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.
The US has its own share of Christian fundamentalist wingnuts, but the USCIRF report is more concerned with religious freedom and persecution in the rest of the world. The bottom line for India, the report says, is that justice for past incidents of sectarian violence targeting Muslim, Christians and Sikhs has not been achieved fully. Anti-conversion laws adopted in some states have led to higher incidents of intimidation, harassment and violence against religious minority communities, particularly Christians and Muslims. In addition, the report says, “rape has become a common feature of communal violence.”
Although the report notes that there has been no large-scale communal violence against religious minorities in India since 2008, and in recent years the Indian government has created special investigative and judicial structures in an effort to address previous such attacks, “nevertheless, in the past year, progress in achieving justice through these structures for the victims of past incidents continued to be slow and ineffective.” In addition, members of religious minority communities, including Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, reported an increase during the reporting period of intimidation, harassment, and violence, particularly in states with anti-conversion laws.
Based on these concerns, USCIRF says it places India on Tier 2 in 2013. India had been on USCIRF’s watch list since 2009.