US ‘disappointed’ over India denying visa to USCIRF

Washington: The US is not afraid of talking to India over the issue of religious freedom, a top State Department official has said as he expressed “disappointment” over India’s decision not to give visa to members of a US religious commission.

“We are aware that visas were not issued by the Indian embassy to members of the US Commission of International Religious Freedom commissioners, who were planning to travel to India on the fourth of March, and we are disappointed by this news,” State Department Spokesman John Kirby said.

“We are supportive of the commission and the important role they play in reviewing facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom around the world,” he told reporters at his daily news conference yesterday.

“As President (Barack) Obama himself noted during his visit last year, we support the government of India’s commitment to promoting religious freedom and diversity. In his message during his trip, it was clear and it remains true.

“Our nations are stronger when, and I’m quoting now the president, ‘Every person has the right to practise their faith how they choose, or to practise no faith at all. And to do so free of persecution and fear of discrimination’,” Kirby said.

The US remained engaged in a number of discussions with the Indian government about this and other issues with respect to religious freedom, he said.

“It is not a topic of conversation we do not have and it is not a topic of conversation that we are afraid to have with our Indian counterparts.

“We think every society is made stronger when people are free to worship or not worship at all. And that would apply in India as it does anywhere else around the world. I do not have a formal policy statement with respect to the state of religious freedom in India right now. As I said, we are disappointed by this decision,” Kirby added.

Justifying its decision not to give visa to members of US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), India on Friday said the group has no locus standi to pass its judgement and comment on its citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.

India has not been giving them visa since 2009.