A senior US official stated on Monday that too many governments, including those of Saudi Arabia, Russia, India, and China, continue to openly target members of the religious community. The statement came as the State Department released its annual report on international religious freedom, which is required by Congress and details the state of religious freedom in various nations.
“Far too many governments continue to freely target faith community members within their borders,” Rashad Hussain, Ambassador at Large, Office of International Religious Freedom, told reporters at a news conference here soon after the annual 2022 “Report on International Religious Freedom” was released by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
Blinken noted that the report aims to highlight regions where freedom of religion or belief is being repressed to promote accountability and ultimately drive progress towards a world where freedom of religion or belief is a reality for everyone everywhere. The report offers a fact-based, comprehensive view of the state of religious freedom in nearly 200 countries and territories worldwide, he added.
Blinken made no mention of India in his remarks, and the annual report’s section on the country is almost identical to that of the previous years in that it primarily documents claims of religious freedom violations made by media outlets and non-governmental organisations both inside and outside of India.
Hussain mentioned India in the context of the key findings of the report in terms of governments continuing to freely target faith communities.
“In India, legal advocates and faith leaders from across the country’s diverse religious communities condemned a case of extreme hate speech against Muslims in the city of Haridwar, calling for the country to uphold its historical traditions of pluralism and tolerance. And the Burma military regime continues to repress the Rohingya population, causing many to flee their homes,” Hussain said as he listed out a few other countries starting with Russia and followed by China and Afghanistan.
“I would like to share some key findings from this year’s report regarding religious discrimination and hatred at the governmental and societal levels and describe what we are doing to address it,” Hussain said.
The document’s section on India noted that there were numerous reports of violence by law enforcement against members of religious minorities throughout the year in a number of states, including the public flogging of four Muslim men by plainclothes police in Gujarat in October after they were accused of injuring Hindu festivalgoers, and the demolition of Muslim-owned homes and businesses in Madhya Pradesh in the wake of communal unrest in Khargone in April.
The Rasthtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) president Mohan Bhagwat met with five prominent Muslim community members in September to hear their concerns and explore ways to foster communal harmony between Muslims and Hindus, according to the report.
“Bhagwat reportedly committed to continued meetings for the purpose of improving relations between the Muslim and Hindu communities. Bhagwat also met with Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, head of the All India Imam Organisation, at a Delhi-area madrassah run by that organisation.
Media reported that some Muslim groups welcomed Bhagwat’s engagement, while others described it as ‘just optics’ and preparation for the 2024 parliamentary elections,” it said.
“In 2021, Bhagwat had stated publicly that Hindus and Muslims in the country should not be treated differently because of religion and that killing non-Hindus for cow slaughter was an act against Hinduism,” the report said.
Chair of the US Commission for International Religious Freedom Nury Turkel said in a statement that the International Religious Freedom Report is a crucial weapon in the struggle to hold violators accountable and enhance circumstances for religious freedom around the world.
“With this report, the state department shows the entire world that the United States is committed to the fundamental value of religious freedom,” he said.