US disappointed over India’s denial of visas to US religious commission

Washington, March 8 (IANS) Citing President Barack Obama’s message on religious freedom during his trip to India last year, the US again expressed disappointment over India’s denial of visas to a bipartisan US commission.

“We’re disappointed by this news,” State Department Spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Monday when asked about denial of visas to US Commission on International Religious Freedom that was planning to visit India on March 4.

The State Department, he said, was “supportive of the commission and the important role they play in reviewing facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom around the world.”

“As President Obama himself noted during his visit last year, we support the Government of India’s commitment to promoting religious freedom and diversity,” Kirby said. “And his message during his trip to India was clear and it remains true.”

“Our nations are stronger when every person has the right to practice their faith how they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free of persecution and fear of discrimination,” Obama was quoted as saying in New Delhi during his visit last year.

Asked if the State Department had reached out to Delhi on this, Kirby said:

“It’s not a topic of conversation we don’t have, and it’s not a topic of conversation that we’re afraid to have with our Indian counterparts.”

However, the spokesperson declined to give any details of discussions with India or making a “broad-brush statement” about an assessment on religious freedom there.

Citing Obama’s statement about “every society being made stronger when people are free to worship or not worship at all,” Kirby said “that would apply in India as it does anywhere else around the world.”

“I don’t have a formal policy statement with respect to the state of religious freedom in India right now,” he said. “As I said, we’re disappointed by this decision.”

Asked to comment on India’s position that the USCIRF doesn’t have any locus standi on commenting on India’s religious freedom because India’s constitution itself guarantees it, Kirby said the US wanted such issues to be “upheld, to be observed.”

“And again, we support the work of the commission and what they stand for,” he said. “We remain disappointed by the news.”

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