The White House on Monday said the online harassment of journalist Sabrina Siddiqui, who asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi a question at a press conference last week, was completely unacceptable.
On June 23, Modi had taken questions at a rare press conference with United States President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington. The Wall Street Journal reporter had pointed out in her question that several human rights groups have accused the Modi government of discriminating against religious minorities and taking action to silence its critics.
In response, Modi had defended the secular roots of Indian democracy. “There is absolutely no space for discrimination...And when you talk of democracy, if there are no human values and there is no humanity, there are no human rights, then it’s not a democracy,” he said.
The press conference was followed by a wave of trolling of Siddiqui as Hindutva supporters and members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party attacked her as “the daughter of Pakistani parents” and for “echoing the claims of Islamists”. The attacks had forced Siddiqui to clarify that she cheered for the Indian cricket team along with her father.
On Monday, US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby was asked at a press conference for a comment on Siddiqui receiving such pushback after posing a question to a democratic leader.
“We’re aware of the reports of that harassment,” Kirby said. “It’s unacceptable. And we absolutely condemn any harassment of journalists anywhere under any circumstances. That’s...completely unacceptable. And it’s antithetical to the very principles of democracy that...were on display last week during the state visit.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the US government is committed to the freedom of the press. “We certainly condemn any efforts of intimidation or harassment of a journalist or any journalist that is just trying to do their job,” she said.
The Congress on Tuesday shared a video of the press secretary’s statement, saying that it was unfortunate that a woman journalist was harassed for asking the prime minister a question. “This one question has laid bare the hollow claims about press freedom,” the party added.
In a statement, the Wall Street Journal said that Siddiqui is a “respected journalist known for her integrity and unbiased reporting”.
“This harassment of our reporter is unacceptable, and we strongly condemn it,” said the statement.
On June 24, the South Asian Journalists Association had also extended its support to Siddiqui after she faced online harassment. “We want to express our continued support of our colleague Sabrina Siddiqui who, like many South Asian and female journalists, is experiencing harassment for simply doing her job,” the association said. “Press freedom is the hallmark of any democracy and PM Modi leads the world’s largest democracy.”