It’s ‘Wrong’ to Blame Religious Minorities for Spread of Coronavirus, Says US official

Medical staff of a mobile unit take samples from a woman to test for Covid-19.

Medical staff of a mobile unit take samples from a woman to test for Covid-19.

US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback on Thursday urged religious groups to practise social distancing and sought the release of peaceful religious prisoners across the world, particularly in countries like Iran and China.

  • PTI
  • Last Updated: April 3, 2020, 11:35 AM IST

Washington: The US has described it “wrong” to blame religious minorities for the spread of coronavirus, asserting that the “blame game” over the origin of COVID-19 should be aggressively pushed back by the governments across the world.

US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback on Thursday urged religious groups to practise social distancing and sought the release of peaceful religious prisoners across the world, particularly in countries like Iran and China.

“My take of it is that religious groups should practice social distancing. That’s what we need to do,” Brownback told reporters during a conference call on COVID-19 impact on religious minorities.

Responding to a question, Brownback said that the US was tracking the blaming of religious minorities for COVID-19 virus.

“Unfortunately, it is happening in various places. This is wrong by governments to do this. The governments really should put this down and state very clearly that this is not the source of the coronavirus. It’s not the religious minority communities,” he said.

“They should go out there in open messaging and say no, this is not what happened. We know where this virus originated. We know it’s a pandemic the whole world is being subjected to and it’s not something from religious minorities. But unfortunately, we are seeing the sort of blame game getting started up in different places around the world, and we hope it gets pushed back aggressively by those host governments,” he said.

Brownback called on governments to work with their religious minorities during these tough times and ensure they are getting the needed resources and aid.

“We’ve seen a situation in several countries where oftentimes a religious minority is excluded from the public health need and distribution in nations, and we’re calling on all nations to distribute this at this time of pandemic to all communities regardless of religious affiliation or otherwise,” he said.

“I don’t have specific knowledge on Kashmir, whether or not it’s getting the type of aid it needs,” Brownback said when asked if Kashmir was getting the aid it needs at this time.

“I have not (spoken) with Indian officials yet,” he said when asked if he had any specific conversations with the Indian officials about the trending of #CoronaJihad, hinting that coronavirus has been spread by the Muslim community.

Brownback’s remarks came after a huge congregation of Tablighi Jamaat in New Delhi’s Nizamuddin area emerged as one of the biggest hotspots of the coronavirus outbreak in India.

The Telangana government said on Monday that six people who attended the religious congregation between March 13 and 15 died due to coronavirus.

Subsequently, the authorities across the country swung into action to trace the contacts of those who went to the gathering, attended by hundreds of people, including from Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia.

Brownback also appealed to the governments to release religious prisoners, saying it was not for those who are engaged in terrorist activities.

“If the person is practising their faith and they’re doing it by being a jihadist and attacking and trying to blow up buildings, I think governments have every right to lock them up. And we do that ourselves in the US, and I have had that happen in my state when I was governor of Kansas,” he said.

“I’m not going to get in a dispute with people there. I’m talking about individuals that are peacefully practising their faith and are arrested because they are advocates for their faith and are peaceful about it. Now, I’m not going to get in a debate about whether somebody is in another category,” he said.

“If they have committed actual crimes in doing things, I think governments have a response that’s certainly legitimate to protect the broader community. We’re asking for once your peaceful practitioners to be released,” he added.

In this time of pandemic, religious prisoners should be released, he asserted.

“We call on all governments around the world to do so. It’s a good public health move for their nations and it’s morally obviously the right thing to do. We unfortunately have a number of religious prisoners around the world in various countries that are being held,” he said.

In addition to Iran, China continues to have a number of people imprisoned for their faith, he said.

“We know that as far as the situation in Xinjiang, but we also know it happens and it continues to take place with Protestant and Catholic churches, house church and even officially recognised church, and then the Falun Gong members and Tibetan Buddhists a number of them are in prison. And again, those should all be released in this time of pandemic,” he asserted.

Brownback said his office had been meeting with representatives of the Sikh community and discussing the horrific attack on a gurdwara that took place in Kabul recently.

“That would be in other areas and obviously would involve multiple agencies with that,” he said, adding that he will be having a telephonic call with Sikh representatives soon.


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