Washington, Mar 4: India has denied visa to members of a US commission on religious freedom who wanted to discuss and assess "deteriorating" religious freedom conditions in the country, the head of the independent body has said.
"We are deeply disappointed by the Indian government's denial, in effect, of these visas," Robert P George, chairman of US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), said in a statement.
A three-member delegation of USCIRF wanted to make a one-week visit starting today to meet with government officials, religious leaders and activists in India.
"As a pluralistic, non-sectarian, and democratic state, and a close partner of the United States, India should have the confidence to allow our visit," he said.
"USCIRF will continue to pursue a visit to India, given the ongoing reports from religious communities, civil society groups, and NGOs that the conditions for religious freedom in India have been deteriorating since 2014," George said.
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This is not the first time the USCIRF members have not been issued visas. The members, who prepare an annual report on religious freedom in countries across the globe, were denied the visas for the first time in previous UPA regime.
USCIRF has been able to travel to many countries, including those that are among the worst offenders of religious freedom, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, China and Burma, George said.
"One would expect that the Indian government would allow for more transparency than have these nations, and would welcome the opportunity to convey its views directly to USCIRF," George said.
The USCIRF delegation was scheduled to leave today and had the support of the State Department and the US Embassy in New Delhi, it said.
USCIRF's principal responsibilities include reviewing, through the lens of international human rights law, the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and making policy recommendations to the US President, Secretary of State, and Congress.
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission with commissioners appointed by the President and the leaders in both Houses of Congress.