Seventy-five Democratic senators and members of the House of Representatives on Tuesday urged United States President Joe Biden to raise human rights issues with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Washington.

In a letter to Biden, the legislators said they were concerned about the shrinking of political space, the rise of religious intolerance, the targeting of civil society organisations and journalists and growing restrictions on press freedoms and internet access in India.

“We do not endorse any particular Indian leader or political party – that is the decision of the people of India – but we do stand in support of the important principles that should be a core part of American foreign policy,” the leaders said.

Modi is in the US for a state visit from June 21 to June 24. He is the third Indian leader after former President Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to be invited for a state visit by Washington.

The letter is signed by 18 senators and 57 members of the House of Representatives. Among the signatories are Representative Pramila Jayapal, US Senators Chris Van Hollen, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

During his visit, Modi will address a joint session of the US Congress on June 22. Besides holding talks with Biden, he is scheduled to meet Vice President Kamala Harris, Tesla owner Elon Musk, Nobel Prize winner Paul Romer and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson among others.

In Tuesday’s letter, the Democratic lawmakers said they want US and India to share a “close and warm relationship” but added that friendship should be based on shared values.

“As longtime supporters of a strong US-India relationship, we also believe that friends can and should discuss their differences in an honest and forthright way,” they said. “That is why we respectfully request that in addition to the many areas of shared interests between India and the US you also raise directly with Prime Minister Modi areas of concern.”

The legislators said that Biden had “made respect for human rights, press freedom, religious freedom, and pluralism core tenets of American foreign policy”.

“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,” they said.

Meanwhile, Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that as a mark of protest, she will not attend a US Congress event where Modi will deliver a speech. She will instead hold a briefing with human rights groups.

“Prime Minister Modi’s government has repressed religious minorities, emboldened violent Hindu nationalist groups, and targeted journalists/human rights advocates with impunity,” she wrote on Twitter.

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Modi government backed discriminatory policies: USCIRF

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom also urged Biden to discuss matters concerning religious freedom and human rights with Modi.

“For the past several years, the Indian government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, has supported discriminatory national and state-level policies that severely hinder and restrict the religious freedom of minority groups,” the US government agency said in a statement on Tuesday.

The USCIRF is an independent panel of the US government that monitors the universal right to freedom of religion and makes policy suggestions to the White House. But these suggestions are not binding.

In its annual report released in May, it had recommended the White House to designate India as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in or tolerating systematic violations of religious freedom. The USCIRF has now made this recommendation for four years in a row.

In its statement on Tuesday, the USCIRF described policies such as the hijab ban, anti-conversion laws and the Citizenship Amendment Act as dicriminatory.

“It is deeply concerning that the Indian government continues to implement policies that negatively impact Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindu Dalit communities,” the panel’s Commissioner Stepehen Schneck said.”