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US official says far too many countries continue to target faith community members

US official says far too many countries continue to target faith community members

Washington: 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 Tony Blinken.

The report provides a fact-based, comprehensive view of the state of religious freedom in nearly 200 countries and territories around the world, Blinken said, noting that it aims to highlight areas where freedom of religion or belief is being repressed to promote accountability and ultimately, drive progress toward a world where freedom of religion or belief is a reality for everyone everywhere.

Blinken did not mention India in his remarks and the India section of the annual report is almost similar to that of the previous years, which is more or less a documentation of allegations of violation of religious freedom raised by multiple media outlets and non-governmental organisations inside and outside the country.

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 India section of the document said there were numerous reports during the year of violence by law enforcement authorities against members of religious minorities in multiple states, including plainclothes police in Gujarat publicly flogging four Muslim men accused of injuring Hindu worshippers during a festival in October and the Madhya Pradesh government bulldozing Muslim-owned houses and shops following communal violence in Khargone in April.

The report noted that in September, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat met with five prominent members of the Muslim community to listen to their concerns and discuss how to promote communal harmony between Muslims and Hindus.

"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.

In a statement, US Commission for International Religious Freedom Chair Nury Turkel said the International Religious Freedom Report is an invaluable tool in the fight to hold violators accountable and improve global religious freedom conditions.

"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.

With PTI inputs

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