The escalating transnational targeting of religious minorities and their advocates in India has raised concerns for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Recent actions taken by the Indian government to suppress activists, journalists, and lawyers abroad are viewed as a significant menace to religious freedom. USCIRF is urging the U.S. Department of State to categorize India as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) due to its systematic, ongoing, and severe violations of freedom of religion or belief.
“The Indian government’s alleged involvement in the killing of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada and the plot to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in the United States are deeply troubling, and represent a severe escalation of India’s efforts to silence religious minorities and human rights defenders both within its country and abroad,” said USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck. “We call on the Biden administration to acknowledge the Indian government’s perpetration of particularly severe religious freedom violations and designate it as a country of particular concern (CPC).”
Transnational repression occurs when states use intimidation, harassment, or violence against those living outside their borders. Transnational repression campaigns often target political and human rights activists, journalists, and members of religious and ethnic minority groups. In extreme cases, tactics include detention, reprisals against family members, kidnapping, or, as illustrated by India, assassinations. In November 2023, the U.S. Department of Justice published an indictment alleging the Indian government’s attempt to assassinate a Sikh activist was intended to prompt a series of additional killings in the United States and Canada.
In addition, Indian authorities have used spyware and online harassment campaigns to target and intimidate journalists and activists abroad advocating on behalf of religious minorities. Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s State Visit to the United States in June, comments from the head of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) information and technology department, Amit Malviya, prompted an online campaign against U.S. Wall Street Journal journalist Sabrina Siddiqui for posing a question about religious freedom conditions in India.
“Within its own borders, Indian authorities have repeatedly used draconian legislation like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and anti-conversion laws to systematically crack down on religious minorities, journalists, and activists,” USCIRF Commissioner David Curry. “Extending this repression to target religious minorities from India living abroad, including intimidation tactics against journalists, is especially dangerous and cannot be ignored. We urge the U.S. government to continue its active engagement with senior Indian officials and international partners to ensure religious minorities can live and express themselves without fear of reprisal, whether in India or elsewhere.”
USCIRF has recommended each year since 2020 that the U.S. Department of State designate India as a CPC, most recently in its 2023 Annual Report. USCIRF also published an issue update on India’s state-level anti-conversion laws, providing further context on India’s use of these laws to target religious minorities. In September 2023, USCIRF held a hearing on religious freedom conditions in India and how the U.S. government can work with the Indian government to address violations.