Ahead of the meeting between United States President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a group of six global journalist bodies said on Wednesday that press freedom was under attack in India.
In an advertisement in The Washington Post, the press bodies said that journalists in India face physical violence, harassment, bogus lawsuits and hate campaigns on social media.
“Leaders around the world who value democracy must urge those in power in India to stop the threats against journalists there,” the advertisement said. The press bodies highlighted the arrest of journalists Aasif Sultan, Sajad Gul, Fahad Shah, Irfan Mehraj, Gautam Navlakha and Rupesh Kumar Singh.
The press bodies which issued the advertisement are Committee to Protect Journalists, The Washington Post Press Freedom Partnership, Reporters Without Borders, the International Press Institute, and the James W Foley Legacy Foundation.
Modi arrived in the United States on June 21 for a three-day visit. This is his sixth visit to the country as the prime minister but the first official state visit. Besides his meeting with Biden, Modi will also address a joint sitting of the US Congress on Thursday.
The Committee to Protect Journalists also called upon the Biden administration to urge India to end its media crackdown and release the six journalists, who have been “arbitrarily detained in retaliation for their work”.
Critical news outlets, both domestic and foreign, face harassment by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in the form of routine raids and retaliatory income tax investigations, the press body said in a statement.
The non-profit’s President Jodie Ginsberg said that the crackdown on media increased in India since Modi came to power in 2014.
“Journalists critical of the government and the BJP party have been jailed, harassed, and surveilled in retaliation for their work,” Ginsberg said. “India is the world’s largest democracy, and it needs to live up to that by ensuring a free and independent media – and we expect the United States to make this a core element of discussions.”
Ahead of Biden’s meeting with Modi, seventy-five Democratic senators and members of the House of Representatives on Tuesday had urged the US president to raise matters related to human rights with the Indian prime minister during his visit to Washington.
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.
However, the White House has said that Biden will not lecture Modi on concerns about India’s democratic backsliding.
Modi has cracked down on press, civil society, says Bernie Sanders
US Senator Bernie Sanders on Wednesday accused the Modi government of cracking down on the press and civil society, jailing political opponents and “pushing an aggressive Hindu nationalism that leaves little space for India’s religious minorities”.
“President Biden should raise these facts in his meeting with Modi,” Sanders wrote in a tweet.
Meanwhile, Democratic Party Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced that she will boycott Modi’s joint address to the US Congress and encourage her colleagues “who stand for pluralism, tolerance, and freedom of the press” in doing the same.
In a statement, she pointed out that the United States had denied visa to Modi for his alleged failure to stop the 2002 Gujarat riots.
“India currently ranks 161 out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index - in part due to Modi’s raids on BBC India’s offices and his court challenges against a critical documentary,” Cortez added. “Additionally, a report from the US Holocaust Museum found that India is at high risk for mass killings – the 8th most at risk of 162 countries studied.”
She said that a joint address is one of the most prestigious invitations and honour the Unites States Congress extends and that it should not be extended to “individuals with deeply troubling human rights records”.
Representative Cori Bush also said she will boycott Modi’s address.
“Modi has a shameful history of committing human rights abuses, undermining democracy, and targeting journalists,” she wrote on Twitter.