‘Citizens Should Be Allowed To Protest In Peace Without Fear’

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New Delhi:  US Secretary of State John Kerry made a strong pitch for the right to dissent on Wednesday, saying in an address to students of Delhi’s Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), “We have to respect the rights of all our citizens irrespective of creed and allow them to protest in peace without fear that they will be jailed.”

His comments come days after the US State department said it supported “the right to freedom of expression and assembly, including through civil society,” on sedition charges against rights watchdog Amnesty International over a Kashmir-related event in Bengaluru, where slogans of “Azadi” (freedom) were raised.

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Mr Kerry’s townhall at the IIT Delhi was delayed because he was stuck in a traffic jam caused by heavy rain in Delhi. In his speech he joked, “Don’t know how you all got here. You must’ve needed boats.”

John Kerry, 72, has been forced to cancel his scheduled trip to three religious sites in the capital after his IIT visit today. On Monday night, as he landed in Delhi, he had spent nearly an hour stuck in traffic jams from the airport to his hotel.

The US official took several questions from IIT students. He recalled previous visits to India and said, “The India that I first encountered in the early 90s was already a regional leader… Now it is an established power with a footprint that affects the entire planet.”

The deep cooperation between India and US, he said, matter not just to the two countries, but to the rest of the world. Mr Kerry will  meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi later today. He met Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj yesterday and said America fully stands behind India in its demand that Pakistan punish the attackers of 26/11 terror strike in Mumbai and the January assault on the Pathankot airforce base in Punjab.

“It’s clear that there is work to do for Pakistan to push harder against sanctuaries of terror,” Mr Kerry said today, also adding, “Terror groups like Daesh, Al Qaeda, LeT, JeM can’t be fought by a single nation alone. Apart from security and better military cooperation, his two-day visit is focused on increasing trade between the two countries five-fold to 500 billion dollars. “India is blessed with being the fastest growing market in the world… By 2030, India will be the world’s most populous nation, with a rising middle class of half a billion people, and a huge reservoir of entrepreneurial ingenuity and talent,” he said at IIT.

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