FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 14, 2020
USCIRF Welcomes Indian Supreme Court Decision on Assam Detention Centers as a First Step
Washington, DC – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomed the decision of India’s Supreme Court to relax conditions for the release of individuals detained as “foreigners” in Assam’s detention centers due to concerns with the spread of COVID-19. In response to an application submitted by the Justice for Liberty Initiative, the Supreme Court ordered the release of detainees held for at least two years and lowered the personal bond amount necessary to secure release from 100,000 to 5,000 rupees.
“We welcome this decision as a first step,” stated USCIRF Chair Tony Perkins. “We urge the Indian Supreme Court to continue on this promising path and order the release of all those detained in the detention centers on humanitarian grounds. Even two years as a minimum time for release is unreasonable given the threat of detention centers becoming a breeding ground for the spread of COVID-19.”
In recent years, the northeastern state of Assam has undertaken a number of processes to verify its residents’ citizenship, including the National Register of Citizens, with the effect of a large number of Indian citizens, especially Bengalis, having their citizenship questioned by authorities. Nearly 1,000 people under suspicion of being a “foreigner” are currently housed in six detention centers in Assam as they await deportation. Some individuals have been detained for as long as 10 years without being sentenced to a crime.
USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava added, “It is encouraging that India’s Supreme Court recognized the vulnerability of detainees in the detention centers. We remain concerned, however, that these individuals were wrongfully labeled as ‘foreigners’ and detained in the first place. Moving forward, we hope the government ends the practice of detaining individuals within these centers, especially given the overriding concerns with COVID-19.”
In its 2019 Annual Report, USCIRF highlighted concerns that the implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam “is an intentional effort to discriminate and/or has the effect of discriminating against Muslims, and that the discretion given to local authorities in the verification process and in identifying perceived foreigners to be excluded from the [NRC] draft list will be abused.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze, and report on threats to religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief. To interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at Media@USCIRF.gov or Danielle Ashbahian at email@example.com.