The interview of a US delegate speaking about how India rejected his visa to the country has been taken out of context and made viral online. BOOM found that the interview is from March 2016 and has been shared as recent to claim that the Modi government denied visas to delegates visiting India to monitor religious freedom in the country.
The interviewee, Father Thomas Reese, is seen speaking to CBN News' anchor Heather Sells about how his delegation from the US Commission on International Freedom (USCIRF), was denied their visa for the third time. "India is a dynamic democracy. It claims to be a non sectarian state. It has pledged itself to international agreements on religious freedoms. So what is it hiding?" he said.
When asked what his delegation was concerned about when it comes to India, he said, "One of the biggest concerns is that there are a lot of religious conflicts and violence going on. There have been situations where thousands of people have been killed. Conflicts between Muslims and Hindus. We've seen situations where churches have been burnt and attacked by mobs." Father Reese also alleged that people who wanted to convert to Christianity from Hinduism were subjected to harassment.
This video has been shared with the claim that the delegation was about to visit Manipur for this report and was not granted a visa. A caption on Facebook reads, "Visas rejected for US delegation to visit Manipur"
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan also shared the clip on Twitter with the caption, "The Modi govt has refused travel visas to members of the US Commission on international religious freedom, to visit India & see the state of religious freedom in India. Modi said any question of suppression of religious freedom in India is ridiculous & tolerance is in our DNA," referring to the remarks made by PM Modi at a recent joint press conference in the White House with President Joe Biden.
BOOM found that the interview of Father Reese is from March 2016 and is being shared out of context to claim that the delegation's visas were denied recently.
Taking a cue from the CBN News logo on the top right of the video, we searched the YouTube channel of CBN news by using the keywords "Thomas Reese".
We found several interviews of Father Reese over the years; one of them was uploaded on March 10, 2016 with the title 'India Government Turning a Blind Eye to Religious Attacks'
Click here to view.
The 5-minute interview was an exact match to the viral videos on Facebook.
In the interview, Father Reese talks about how delegation prepares reports about religious freedom across countries in the world and presents them to the President and State Department. They do this by visiting those places, talking to religious leaders and even government officials to get a holistic view of the situation.
When asked about the situation against Christians in India, Father Reese said, "Recently, there have been a lot of Hindu nationalist groups that have pushing an 'all-Hindu India' agenda. Basically telling Christians to go to Europe." He even suggested that this attitude encouraged radical behaviour in the country leading to attacks and violence.
"This is unacceptable," he added while saying that these radical groups support the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and that it was necessary for PM Modi to condemn these actions.
The USCIRF's chairperson at the time, Robert George, had expressed his disappointment in India's refusal to grant the visas and said, "As a pluralistic, non-sectarian, and democratic state, and a close partner of the United States, India should have the confidence to allow our visit."
The Indian government in turn responded and said that the visas had been denied because they did not "see the locus standi of a foreign entity like USCIRF to pass its judgment and comment on the state of Indian citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.”