Even as the global Covid-19 pandemic dominates news headlines, a major report on religious freedom released in Washington, D.C., United States, provided a sobering reminder that religious persecution and restrictions continue unabated in many parts of the world.
The annual report, which tracks both positive and negative trends in religious freedom, was issued April 30 by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent watchdog agency that helps inform U.S. foreign policy.
While the report pointed to improvements in religious freedom protections made recently by some governments, including Uzbekistan and Sudan, it also noted a sharp deterioration in the status of religious minorities in India and increasing religious atrocities committed by militant groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Shabaab in Somalia.
According to Nadine Maenza, a vice-chair of USCIRF, recent social and legal developments in India, the world’s most populous democracy, have been worrying. During the USCIRF launch event, held online due to COVID-19 restrictions, she pointed to India’s 2019 amendment of its Citizenship Act, which specifically excluded Muslims from a program designed to fast-track Indian citizenship for migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan already residing in India.
Maenza said this move by the Hindu nationalist government of India was both “startling and disturbing” and could potentially leave millions of Muslims in India vulnerable to “detention, deportation, and statelessness.” The report also notes that the national and various state governments of India have also increasingly tolerated campaigns of harassment and hate speech against many other religious minorities.