The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) highlighted “significant improvements” in religious freedom in Sudan and Uzbekistan during 2019 while heavily criticising India for taking “a drastic turn downwards”, in its annual report published on 28 April.
For the first time since 2004, the commission included India in its top tier of violators and recommended that the US State Department list it as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), for countries engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations”. India is one of five countries newly added to the CPC list alongside Nigeria, Russia, Syria and Vietnam.
USCIRF highlighted the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s use of a strengthened majority from the May parliamentary elections to institute national level policies violating religious freedom across India.
It is especially critical of the Citizenship Amendment Act, giving fast track Indian citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, which sparked nationwide protests in December, resulting in around 25 deaths in Uttar Pradesh State alone.
The report described a heightened “climate of fear among non-Hindu communities” and decried the Indian government for allowing “violence against [religious] minorities and their houses of worship to continue with impunity” and for engaging in and tolerating “hate speech and incitement to violence”. In February 2020 there were reports of police actively participating in the violence during three days of rioting that erupted in Delhi.
The commission included Algeria for the first time on its Special Watch List (SWL), for countries committing severe violations, for its widespread repression of religious minorities during 2019. The commission particularly flagged its “systematic crackdown” on the Protestant Christian community, which included the forced closure of three of the country’s largest Protestant churches in October.
For the first time since the commission began compiling its reports in 2000, Sudan is not included as one of the world’s worst offenders (CPC) because of the “significant changes” it has made since the overthrow of Islamist dictator Omar al-Bashir in April.
The report praises the civilian-military transitional government for introducing a transitional constitution that no longer identifies Islam as the primary source of law, and ensures freedom of belief and worship. It also welcomes the repeal of strict sharia public order laws. Also noted was the government’s commitment to repealing notorious blasphemy and apostasy laws “in the near future”. A national holiday was designated in February 2020 for the celebration of Christmas on 25 December, in recognition and respect for the minority Christian community, estimated to be around 3% of the population.
Uzbekistan was moved off of the CPS list and congratulated for making “significant steps” in 2019 to improve religious freedom, including ending its longstanding practice of raiding religious communities for unregistered activity or unauthorised distribution or possession of literature. However, it flagged the failure of the Uzbek government to fulfil its May 2019 pledge to reform the 1998 Religion Law, which continues to impose restrictions on all religious activity.