White House denounces harassment of journalist who questioned Indian Modi on human rights

On Monday, Biden administration officials slammed an online harassment campaign targeting a Wall Street Journal reporter who questioned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi about his government’s human rights record at a conference in press at the White House last week.

“This is completely unacceptable and contrary to the very principles of democracy that … were laid out last week during the state visit,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said of the vitriol online that targeted White House reporter Sabrina Siddiqui.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre then added that “we are committed to freedom of the press” and “condemn any attempt to intimidate or harass a journalist”.

During a press conference with President Joe Biden and Modi at the White House on Thursday, Siddiqui said “there are many human rights groups that say your government has discriminated against religious minorities and sought to silence its critics,” and asked “what steps are you and your government prepared to take to improve the rights of Muslims and other minorities in your country and uphold freedom of expression.”

Modi, who rarely answers questions from reporters, said at the time he was “surprised” by the question.

“In India’s democratic values, there is absolutely no discrimination, neither on the basis of caste, creed, age or any kind of geographical location,” Modi said per the through a translator in response to Siddiqui.

“Indeed, India is a democracy. And as President Biden also mentioned, India and America are the two countries, democracy is in our DNA. Democracy is our spirit. Democracy runs through our veins. We live democracy,” he added.

Before becoming prime minister, Modi was banned from the United States for his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots, in which 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed. Since taking office in 2014, he has been criticized for aspects of his human rights record, including the censorship of journalists and the stripping of autonomy for the Kashmir region.

Following his exchange with Modi, Siddiqui was the target of online abuse, mostly from the prime minister’s allies in India.

The Wall Street Journal responded to the attacks on Monday in a statement calling Siddiqui “a respected journalist known for her integrity and unbiased reporting.” This harassment of our journalist is unacceptable and we strongly condemn it.

The South Asian Journalists Association also defended Siddiqui. “We would like to express our continued support for our colleague @SabrinaSiddiqui who, like many South Asian and female journalists, is harassed simply for doing her job,” the group said. said on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com

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