India denies visas to U.S. panel on religious freedom, says it has no standing

By Sanjeev Miglani and Nigam Prusty
NEU-DELHI (Reuters) - India has refused a travel request for members of a U.S. government body seeking to review its religious freedom, saying that such foreign authorities have no right to assess citizens' constitutional rights.
Since its seizure of power in 2014, the Indian government has been criticized for attacking Muslims and the panel has called for the world's largest democracy to be classified as a "country of special importance" alongside China, Iran, Russia and Syria.
The U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) called in a April report calling for sanctions against government officials by Prime Minister Narendra Modi after excluding minority Muslims from a new citizenship law.
Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said the government had firmly rejected the Commission's surveys, which knew little about the rights of Indian citizens, and described them as biased and biased.
"We also denied visas to USCIRF teams who attempted to visit India on religious freedom issues," he told a Modi government group legislator in a June 1 letter.
The move was made because the government saw no reason for a foreign entity like USCIRF to speak about the state of the constitutionally protected rights of Indian citizens, he added.
Reuters has examined a copy of the letter to Nishikant Dubey, a MP who raised the issue of the panel's report in Parliament.
USCIRF spokeswoman Danielle Saroyan Ashbahian said his team wanted to travel to India to engage in constructive dialogue with the government.
"As a pluralistic, non-sectarian and democratic state and close partner of the United States, India should have the confidence to allow our visit, which would give it the opportunity to convey its views directly to the USCIRF in a constructive dialogue," she said in an email.
The Commission is a bipartisan advisory body to the United States government that oversees religious freedom abroad and provides policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress. However, these are not binding.

(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; editing by Clarence Fernandez)
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