|Date: 24 Feb 2005|
New York, Feb 24 : A coalition of American and Indian American religious leaders and rights activists has demanded that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi be stopped from entering the US for his "campaign of extremism".
It has written to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "to encourage the denial of a visa or, should he already have a visa, barred entrance into the country".
Modi, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, is scheduled visit the US in the last week of March to attend the annual convention of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) at Fort Lauderdale in Florida March 24.
Joesph K. Grieboski, president of the International Institute on Religion and Public Policy who is the prime mover of a petition to Rice, told IANS: "Under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998 the US can deny visas to those involved in religious persecution."
"Since taking office as chief minister of Gujarat on Oct 7, 2001, Modi has pursued a campaign of extremism targeting religious minorities in Gujarat," the letter to Rice said.
"The most egregious violation of religious freedom engaged by Modi - the orchestrated attacks in Gujarat in 2002 in which more than 2,000 Muslims were killed during government condoned riots - unfortunately falls outside the consideration of the International Religious Freedom Act. The aftermath of the riots, however, has demonstrated that Modi and his BJP government are not in compliance with the spirit and standards of IRFA."
"The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 was established as a tool to advance freedom of religion globally on the one hand, and to punish those individuals and regimes responsible for reprehensible acts of persecution and discrimination on the other," Grieboski said.
"Section 405(a) items 7 and 8 of the International Religious Freedom Act call for 'the denial of one or more working, official, or state visits; the delay or cancellation of one or more working, official, or state visits' to the United States of those who are responsible for severe violations of religious freedom. Modi is just such a responsible party," he said.
"His planned campaign of religious violence and persecution has been evidenced in his severe violations of religious freedom and is due cause for him to be turned away from our borders."
"We are now calling on the United States government to stand by the commitment made by President George W. Bush in his second inaugural address where he spoke of America's belief in human dignity will guide our policies," he said.
Asked if he believed that given the strong bilateral relations between the US and India, Washington would actually heed his request, Grieboski said, "That is precisely the reason why it is more possible now to do so."
There has been no known case of a political leader from India having been denied a visa on these grounds. To the question whether he realistically expected the visa to be denied to Modi, Grieboski said: "Your guess is as good as mine."
The letter to Rice refers to instances, including the passage of anti-conversion laws by both Gujarat and Tamil Nadu in 2003, as well as "aggressive surveying" of Christian families and agencies by the Modi government.
The letter was signed by some Sikh, Muslim and Christian groups. However, there was no Hindu group that had signed on.
The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which claims to be the largest advocacy group for Muslims in the US, also sent out an "Action Alert" urging members to send letters to the State Department to block Modi's entry into the US.
Those opposed to Modi's entry into the United States have formed a group, the Coalition Against Genocide (CAG), to press for action by the AAHOA and by US government officials.