The White House strongly condemned the harassment faced by Sabrina Siddiqui, a journalist from the Wall Street Journal, who asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi a question regarding the degeneration of India’s democracy during a press event at the White House on June 22, following Modi’s meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden.
During the White House press briefing on 26 June, John Kirby, the U.S. National Security Council’s lead for strategic communication, acknowledged that the White House had received information about the incidents of harassment.
Kirby stated that the harassment of journalists is “completely unacceptable” and “antithetical to democratic principles.”
During the press interaction, Siddiqui was given the opportunity by Biden to pose questions. She inquired about the measures Modi was prepared to undertake to safeguard minority rights, protect the rights of Muslims, and uphold freedom of speech. In response, Modi defended the democratic values prevalent in India. It is important to note that Modi scarcely accepts questions from the press, despite being in power for almost a decade. The media presence of the Prime Minister has been tightly controlled by him and his bureau.
Siddiqui was trolled online regarding her religious identity, lineage, and motives upon her asking the question.
“Since some have chosen to make a point of my personal background, it feels only right to provide a fuller picture. Sometimes identities are more complex than they seem,” Siddiqui had tweeted on 24 June, with photos of herself in an Indian cricket team shirt and another of her (in Team India colours) and her father, watching India win the 2011 Cricket World Cup, as per the caption.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre repeated Kirby’s message shortly after Kirby’s remarks on 26 June.
When Pierre was questioned about Biden’s acceptance of Modi’s response regarding rights in India, she replied by affirming their commitment to press freedom, exemplified by the press conference held the previous week. She further condemned any attempts to intimidate or harass journalists who are simply fulfilling their duties.
However, Pierre also deflected the question and declined to provide further details on the conversation between Prime Minister Modi and Biden regarding human rights and press freedom in India.
“I think that is for the Prime Minister to answer and for— for all you all to critique or write about it. I’m not going to discuss that from here,” she said, adding once again that the Biden administration was committed to freedom of the press.
South Asian Journalists Association, a journalists body said that they express their continued support of their colleague “Sabrina Siddiqui who, like many South Asian and female journalists, is experiencing harassment for simply doing her job.”
“Press freedom is the hallmark of any democracy and PM Modi leads the world’s largest democracy,” it said.
“As President of SAJA, I want to add that @SabrinaSiddiqui asked a fair question, one PM Modi’s team and anyone keeping track of news should have expected. His response and how Indian journalists haven’t had the opp to ask him this in 9 years is what we should talk about more. Anecdotally, many of us in the diaspora who have written about Modi, even tangentially, have gotten an unprecedented level of harassment, even for simple news stories. I experienced an onslaught (to a much smaller extent) in 2017 during Trump’s first ‘travel ban.’ I had written about an unfortunate incident my father, a US citizen, had experienced at Dulles airport – before a domestic flight. The deluge of hateful messages about my family background was overwhelming, infuriating, and upsetting. And I wasn’t even writing about Modi directly. But, the reaction morphed into a strange solidarity between Modi and Trump supporters – something we have seen many times over the years. something that was odd at first and yet made sense when charting the trajectory of the impact and appeal of these two leaders,” read tweets by Mythili Sampathkumar, president of SAJA.
Indian American Muslim Council, an advocacy group also strongly condemned the online attack and harassment faced by WSJ reporter for “simply asking a question about human rights violations to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
“Journalists play a vital role in holding leaders accountable, and they should never face harassment or intimidation for doing their job. In solidarity with Sabrina and all journalists facing similar threats,” IAMC said.