India denies visa to US religious freedom body

07:44 PM | 4 Mar, 2016
India denies visa to US religious freedom body
WASHINGTON (Web Desk) - India has denied visas for a delegation from the US government agency, scheduled to visit India to discuss and report on the conditions of religious freedom in the country.

A three-member delegation of US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) was schedule to leave for a one-week visit to India starting today to meet with government officials, religious leaders and activists in India, NDTV reported.

"We are deeply disappointed by the Indian government's denial, in effect, of these visas," said Robert P George, chairman of USCIRF in a statement.

"As a pluralistic, non-sectarian, and democratic state, and a close partner of the United States, India should have the confidence to allow our visit," he said.

This is not the first time the USCIRF members have not been issued visas. The members, who prepare an annual report on religious freedom in countries across the globe, were denied the visas for the first time in previous UPA regime.

USCIRF has been able to travel to many countries, including those that are among the worst offenders of religious freedom, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, China and Burma, Mr George said.

"One would expect that the Indian government would allow for more transparency than have these nations, and would welcome the opportunity to convey its views directly to USCIRF," Mr George said.

USCIRF's principal responsibilities include reviewing, through the lens of international human rights law, the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and making policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress.

"USCIRF will continue to pursue a visit to India, given the ongoing reports from religious communities, civil society groups, and NGOs that the conditions for religious freedom in India have been deteriorating since 2014," Mr George said.

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission with commissioners appointed by the President and the leaders in both Houses of Congress.