India withholds visas from US religious freedom monitors

A U.S. religious freedom panel says it has been unable to obtain visas for members who planned to travel to India this week to assess conditions there.

In its 2015 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom included India on its list of Tier 2 countries -- not the worst offenders but worthy of close monitoring due to religious freedom violations within their borders.

USCIRF chairman Robert P. George said in a statement that "a pluralistic, non-sectarian, and democratic state" such as India should have allowed the visit.

He noted that USCIRF has sent delegations to some of "the worst offenders of religious freedom," such as China, Burma, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.

In the report, the commission said that while India had tried to protect religious minorities, incidents of "religiously-motivated and communal violence reportedly have increased for three consecutive years."

The Tier 2 designation was seen as unfair and part of what Jakob De Roover, a professor at Belgium's Ghent University, considers an effort by USCIRF to promote a society based on American notions of religion.

"It seeks to spread Protestant-Christian values across the world but does so under the guise of promoting and protecting human rights that are 'universally held sacred,'" he wrote on, an Indian website, shortly after the release of last year's USCIRF report.

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