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Media Contact: William Stark, Regional Manager for South Asia RM-SAsia@persecution.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
U.S. Report Labels India a "Tier 2" Violator of Religious Freedom
International Christian Concern
International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that over 400 Christian leaders, social activists, and legislators in India's Telangana state took to the streets in Hyderabad to peacefully protest a recent spike in attacks on Christians by Hindu radicals. The protest took place as the Indian government sharply disagreed with a report issued by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) labeling India as a "Tier 2" violator of religious freedom.
On Saturday, May 2, over 400 Christian leaders, social activists, and legislators gathered in Hyderabad to protest and condemn attacks on Christians in Telangana, of which there have been an estimated 25 in the past eleven months. The protests were sparked by a particularly brutal incident that took place in Pebber on April 8. Reports claim that over 100 people, believed to be members of Hindu radical groups, attacked a Christian gathering and beat Christians with iron rods and knives. More than fifteen Christians were injured, including three pastors who required critical medical attention.
The protest lasted for more than 30 minutes with participants holding placards expressing their concerns to the Indian government. Ahmed Bin Abdullah Balala, a member of the Telangana Legislative Assembly, spoke at the protest saying, "India is a secular democratic nation. Everyone living here is entitled to practice and propagate their religion of choice." He went on to say, "There has been increased fear and intimidation among the minorities of this country ever since the Modi-led government came to power."
Solomon Raju, president of the Twin Cities Christian Youth Fellowship and one of the organizers of the protest told ICC that, "Pastors carry the Bible and preach the message of love. They don't carry weapons and they don't force anybody to change their religion. The government must ensure that there is freedom to practice and propagate a religion of one's choice, as our constitution guarantees."
Last Thursday, April 30, USCIRF released its annual report on international religious freedom and labeled India a "Tier 2" violator of religious freedom. The Indian government expressed outrage over this classification with the country's External Affairs Spokesperson, Vikas Swarup, saying, "The report appears to be based on limited understanding of India, its constitution and its society." Swarup went on to say that the Indian government will "take no cognizance of this report."
Other members of the Indian government went on to express their outrage over the report with the Minister of State for Minority Affairs, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, claiming, "The report is nothing but a conspiracy to tarnish the image of the country."
As the Modi-led government approaches the end of its tumultuous first year in power, inquiries into the government's protection of religious minorities, including Christians, are being demanded. Before Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party were voted into power, many expressed concerns that religious freedom in India would deteriorate. Based on USCIRF's annual report and reports from other human rights monitors in India, it seems that those concerns were well-founded.
ICC's Regional Manager, William Stark, said, "Despite the national government's claims, Christian persecution in India has dramatically increased over the past year. In India, church desecrations, physical assaults, social boycotts, and forced conversions have skyrocketed. As the number of these incidents accumulated, Christians became increasingly upset by the government's silence on the issue of religious intolerance and attacks on Christians. In February, hundreds of Christians protested that silence in New Delhi and finally prompted Prime Minister Modi to promise that he would ensure religious freedom in India. That promise has yet to be fulfilled. Attacks on Christians have continued to escalate, forcing Christians back into the streets in protest. When will India stop denying Christian persecution and start taking action to secure the rights of its minority citizens? Instead of taking the time and effort to claim there is an international conspiracy against India, the government needs to take positive steps to secure the rights of all of its citizens, including and especially religious minorities."
For interviews, contact William Stark, Regional Manager for South Asia: RM-SAsia@persecution.org
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