Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.)

Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) are seen on March 13, 2019 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Raising Alarm Over Human Rights Abuses, Tlaib, Omar, and Raskin to Boycott Modi Address

"The evidence of Modi's escalating repression of India's religious minorities is extensive," said one Muslim civil rights group.

As U.S. President Joe Biden prepared on Tuesday to greet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his first state visit to the country since he took office in 2014, at least three progressive lawmakers said they will not attend the leader's congressional address in protest of numerous alleged human rights violations by Modi's government.

PiaKrishnankutty of The Print in New Delhi reported that Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) will boycott the event.

Omar—who along with Tlaib is one of two Muslim women in the U.S. Congress—has said she plans to host an event after Modi's scheduled joint address at the Capitol where she'll speak with human rights experts and religious freedom advocates about policies affecting Muslims and other minority groups in India.

Tlaib called Biden's invitation to Modi for the high-level diplomatic visit "shameful" as the prime minister landed in New York on Tuesday for a meeting with Twitter owner Elon Musk before proceeding to Washington, D.C.

Raskin was among more than 70 Democrats from both chambers of Congress who wrote to Biden on Tuesday, calling on him to make human rights and democratic values a key point of discussion when he meets with Modi.

Human rights, press freedom, religious freedom, and pluralism "are necessary to the functioning of true democracy," wrote the lawmakers, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.). "In order to advance these values with credibility on the world stage, we must apply them equally to friend and foe alike, just as we work to apply these same principles here in the United States."

The lawmakers noted that recent State Department reports have highlighted "the tightening of political rights and expression" as well as "the worrisome increase of religious intolerance toward minorities and religiously motivated violence by both private and state actors."

The State Department's 2022 report on human rights in India noted that there have been credible reports of "unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents" in Kashmir and beyond, violence and unjustified arrests of journalists, and life-threatening prison conditions.

"President Biden cannot ignore the evidence provided by his own State Department," Amanda Klasing, national director of government relations and advocacy at Amnesty International USA, said Tuesday. "He must clearly state that the growing intolerance and violence is a great concern of its administration. He should encourage Prime Minister Modi to convey to BJP leaders the urgent need to end vitriolic language and to ensure crimes against religious groups are investigated and prosecuted."

The U.S. government's Report on International Religious Freedom last year described how hate speech by officials in Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has contributed to anti-Muslim and anti-Christian violence and catalogued the party's criminalization on religious conversion, the demolition of Muslim-owned properties, and arbitrary arrests and denial of bail for Muslim activists.

"The evidence of Modi's escalating repression of India's religious minorities is extensive," said the Council on American-Islamic Relations on Tuesday.

Press freedom group Reporters Without Borders called India "one of the world's most dangerous countries for the media" in its annual report this year, noting that journalists are frequently subjected to police violence, "terrifying coordinated campaigns of hatred and calls for murder" by Modi supporters, and "deadly reprisals by criminal groups or corrupt local officials."

"We hear a lot about how our relationship with India's government is based on mutual values of democracy and human rights, in spite of their quadrupling trade with Russia since the invasion of Ukraine," Omar told Roll Call earlier this month as she raised alarm about Modi's planned visit.

"There are values that people are willing to talk about when it comes to the advancement of human rights and democratic principles but all of that sort of goes out the window if there is some sort of economic or geopolitical interests that a country serves," she added. "I happen to think that we should be consistent in our care for safeguarding our values and advancing them globally."

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