Religious Freedom Current Affairs - 2019

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Religious Freedom in India deteriorated in 2018: U.S. Commission

According to United States Commission on International Religious Freedom 2019 report, India saw an “overall deterioration of religious freedom conditions in 2018”. US Commission on International Religious Freedom is a bipartisan, independent federal government commission, created by International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

Key Highlights of Report

  • India continues to remain a Tier II country. It is in same list since 2009.
  • Tier II countries are those in which during 2018 ‘violations engaged in or tolerated by government are serious and characterized by at least one of the elements of systematic, ongoing, and egregious (horrible)’. Other Tier 2 countries are Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia and Turkey.
  • India is facing declining religious freedom, apart from increased securitisation and politicisation of religion.
  • It is increasingly becoming difficult to separate religion and politics. It is a tactic which is sometimes intended by those who seek to discriminate against certain religious communities.
  • Over the last decade Minorities conditions have deteriorated in country. The reason is attributed to extremist groups, anti-conversion laws, cow-protection groups, mob lynching, concerns that millions from Assam will be incorrectly left out of NRC (National Register of Citizen) and a denying international NGOs registration.
  • The Chairperson of Commission, Tenzin Dorjee gave a dissenting view. He argued that India is an open society with a robust democratic and judiciary system where religious harmony exists. He cited “positive developments” like communal attacks dropped by 12 % in 2018 from 2017 levels, a 12% increase in budget of Ministry of Minority Affairs and Supreme Court’s push for a 11-point plan to counter mob violence.

US puts Pakistan on Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom

The United States has placed Pakistan on ‘Special Watch List’ for “severe violations” of religious freedom. It is only country to be put under the newly-formed list.

Moreover, US also re-designated about 10 countries as ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ under its International Religious Freedom (IRF) Act. They are Burma (Myanmar), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Key Facts

As per US, Pakistan was placed in this list because it continues to harass its religious minorities, tolerates extra-judicial violence in the guise of opposing blasphemy. Moreover it has state-sanctioned discrimination against groups such as Ahmadis. According to research, Pakistan is one of countries with most restrictions on religion.

Special Watch List

The Special Watch List is for countries that engage in or tolerate severe violations of religious freedom but may not rise to level of ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ (CPC). It is new category created by Frank R Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016. The designations are aimed at improving respect for religious freedom in these countries.

The Special Watch List designation to countries is step below designating it as CPC, which automatically imposes economic and political sanctions. The Frank R Wolf International Religious Freedom Act amended International Religious Freedom (IRF) Act to require President to designate ‘Special Watch List’ of countries deemed not to meet all of CPC criteria but who engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.

Under the IRF Act of 1998, US Secretary of State annually designates governments that have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom as CPC. These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries.