| 17 April 2024, Wednesday |

Biden administration slams online harassment of journalist questioning Indian PM’s human rights record

On Monday, the Biden administration strongly condemned an online harassment campaign aimed at Sabrina Siddiqui, a Wall Street Journal reporter. Siddiqui had questioned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi about his government’s human rights record during a White House press conference the previous week.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby described the online vitriol as “completely unacceptable” and contrary to the principles of democracy showcased during the state visit. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre echoed the sentiment, emphasising their commitment to press freedom and denouncing any attempts to intimidate or harass journalists, reported NBC.

“It’s completely unacceptable and it’s antithetical to the very principles of democracy that … were on display last week during the state visit,” he said.

During the press conference held at the White House on Thursday, Siddiqui directed a question to President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Modi, highlighting concerns raised by human rights groups about religious minority discrimination and stifling of dissent in India.

She asked what measures the Indian government was willing to take to improve the rights of Muslims and other minorities and uphold freedom of speech.

Modi, who rarely engages with reporters, expressed surprise at the question and defended India’s democratic values, asserting that there is no discrimination based on caste, creed, age, or geography in the country. He emphasised that democracy is deeply ingrained in both India and the United States.
Prior to becoming prime minister, Modi faced a ban from the US due to allegations regarding his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots, which resulted in the deaths of around 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.

Since assuming office in 2014, he has faced criticism for various aspects of his human rights record, including the censorship of journalists and the curbing of autonomy in the region of Kashmir.

Officials condemn vitriolic campaign against Wall Street Journal reporter
Following her interaction with Modi, Siddiqui became the target of online abuse, primarily from the prime minister’s supporters in India.

The Wall Street Journal issued a statement on Monday in support of Siddiqui, describing her as a respected journalist known for her integrity and unbiased reporting.
The newspaper unequivocally condemned the harassment she has faced. The South Asian Journalists Association also stood in solidarity with Siddiqui, expressing continued support for her and highlighting that she, like many South Asian and female journalists, is experiencing harassment simply for doing her job.
The incidents surrounding Siddiqui’s questioning of Prime Minister Modi and the subsequent online abuse underscore the importance of protecting press freedom and ensuring the safety of journalists.

It highlights the challenges faced by reporters who seek to hold leaders accountable and shed light on human rights concerns. The Biden administration’s condemnation of the harassment sends a strong message that such actions are unacceptable and contrary to the principles of democracy and freedom of the press.

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