On June 26, White House pushed back strongly against those harassing Sabrina Siddiqui, the Wall Street Journal reporter who asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi a question on democratic backsliding in India during a press event at the White House on June 22, following Mr. Modi’s bilateral meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden, by The White House.
The reports of harassment were acknowledged by John Kirby, the U.S. National Security Council’s lead for strategic communication, at the White House press briefing held on June 26.
“It is unacceptable, and any harassment of journalists anywhere under any circumstances is absolutely condemned,” stated Mr. Kirby, emphasizing that it was “antithetical to the very principles of democracy that were on display last week during the state visit.”
At a press interaction on June 22, Ms. Siddiqui was called on by Mr. Biden to ask questions. In her query, she inquired about the steps Mr. Modi was willing to take to protect minority rights, the rights of Muslims, and uphold free speech. Mr. Modi defended democratic values in India in his response.
Following the event, Ms. Siddiqui faced online harassment from Right Wing and RSS Supporter in India.
“On June 24, I tweeted, ‘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,'” shared Ms. Siddiqui, along with photos of herself in an Indian cricket team shirt and another photo of her and her father (wearing Team India colors) watching India win the 2011 Cricket World Cup, as per the photo caption.
Shortly after Mr. Kirby’s remarks on June 26, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated the message.
“The freedom of the press is a commitment we hold, which is why we conducted the press conference last week,” expressed the Press Secretary.
“We condemn any efforts of intimidation or harassment targeting any journalist trying to fulfill their professional duties,” Ms. Jean-Pierre stated.
When asked about Mr. Biden’s acceptance of Mr. Modi’s response to the question on rights in India, Ms. Jean-Pierre replied, “I think that is for the Prime Minister to answer and for all of you to critique or write about. I’m not going to discuss that from here.” She added that the Biden administration was dedicated to freedom of the press, which was why it was important for the press to hear from not only Mr. Biden but also Mr. Modi, as the Prime Minister rarely engages in press questions.
According to The Hindu News, People close to the process told that it “took a lot of persistence” to get the Indian side to agree to a joint press event with Mr. Modi taking questions.
Ms. Jean-Pierre declined to provide specific details about the conversation between the Prime Minister and the President regarding human rights and press freedoms in India, but she did mention that Mr. Biden “will never shy away” from engaging in such discussions with another leader.
“…I think we have made ourselves very clear here, on our view,” she added.