Washington, D.C., October 19, 2023 – During a Congressional briefing addressing the wrongful incarceration of Indian Muslim activist Umar Khalid, Commissioner Eric Ueland of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) praised Khalid as a dedicated advocate for religious minorities. Ueland highlighted Khalid’s commitment to peaceful protests against discriminatory legislation.
Ueland urged the United States to seriously consider the substantial evidence pointing to India’s use of stringent anti-terrorism laws to suppress activists from minority faiths. He additionally called on the State Department to formally designate India as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) due to its severe infringements on religious freedoms.
“We emphasize the critical need for policy recommendations that address these egregious abuses. It is paramount for the United States to designate India as a CPC in the upcoming months, and not let India evade the consequences of such a designation through any dubious waivers,” emphasized Ueland.
On September 13, 2020, Umar Khalid was unjustly charged with terrorism and apprehended under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Indian authorities accused him of inciting communal violence following a speech delivered during nationwide protests against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The CAA unfairly discriminates against Muslims, depriving them of the opportunity for expedited Indian citizenship. In his address, Khalid advocated for nonviolent resistance against the far-right government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP party.
Addressing the briefing, Syed Qasim Rasool Ilyas, Umar Khalid’s father, clarified that he spoke not only to advocate for his son’s case, but also to represent the plight of all of India’s political prisoners.
“People must know what is prevailing in the country. India is the largest democracy in the world. But we are afraid of whether it will remain as a democracy or not after the 2024 election. If this government comes back, people feel that the democracy of the country will be lost,” he added.
Other speakers included Nausicaa Renner, Deputy Editor of The Intercept, who highlighted the dangerous trend of equating speaking out against state power with terrorism. Indian journalist Niranjan Takle quoted Umar Khalid’s speech to anti-CAA protestors, emphasizing the peaceful intent behind it and the unjust charges brought against Khalid.
Pieter Friedrich, an independent journalist and author, drew attention to the stark contrast between the Indian government’s treatment of Khalid and its silence regarding Sadhvi Rithambara, a leader of the Hindu militant group Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
“This young student activist is incarcerated for participating in protests in which members of his own Muslim community were killed by the ruling authorities, while Sadhvi Rithambara is free to travel internationally as a spokesperson of the Hindu nationalist movement,” Friedrich noted.
The special briefing was co-sponsored by 18 American civil rights organizations, including the Indian American Muslim Council, Genocide Watch, World Without Genocide, and others.