The White House has strongly denounced the “intense online harassment” directed at Wall Street Journal reporter Sabrina Siddiqui, who posed a question about democracy in India to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his joint press conference with President Joe Biden in the United States last week.
John Kirby, a top official, responded to the Wall Street Journal’s inquiry regarding their reporter and stated that the White House was aware of the reports concerning the harassment. According to the Wall Street Journal, since Siddiqui asked her question, she has been subjected to “intense online harassment from people inside India.” The newspaper further noted that she has also faced targeting due to her Muslim faith.
“It’s unacceptable. And we absolutely condemn any harassment of journalists anywhere under any circumstances. That’s just – that’s completely unacceptable. And it’s antithetical to the very principles of democracy that – you’re right – were on display last week during the state visit,” stated John Kirby, who serves as the White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications.
Following Kirby’s statement, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre approached the podium and reiterated the administration’s commitment to press freedom. She emphasized that the press conference was held to uphold the principles of freedom of the press. Jean-Pierre also condemned any attempts to intimidate or harass journalists who are simply doing their job.
During the press conference, Siddiqui posed a question to Prime Minister Modi after his bilateral talks with President Biden on Thursday. She referred to concerns raised by human rights groups regarding discrimination and the silencing of critics in India. Siddiqui asked what steps the Prime Minister and his government were willing to take to improve the rights of Muslims and other minorities in the country and uphold free speech.
In response, PM Modi expressed surprise at Siddiqui’s question and asserted that there was “no question of discrimination” in India as his government adhered to the principles outlined in the Constitution. He emphasized that democracy was deeply ingrained in India and played a vital role in the nation’s spirit and identity.
The Q&A session sparked strong reactions in India. Amit Malviya, the head of the BJP’s IT cell, tweeted in support of PM Modi, stating that he had effectively dismissed the question, referring to it as “motivated.” Malviya highlighted that the Prime Minister’s response focused on the Constitution, equal access to government resources based on eligibility, and the absence of discrimination based on religion, caste, creed, or geography.
In response to online criticism directed at her, Siddiqui shared photos on social media of herself wearing an Indian cricket team t-shirt and cheering for the team alongside her father, who was born in India. She emphasized that her personal background was more complex than it appeared and aimed to provide a fuller picture in light of the attention it had received.
The White House’s condemnation of the harassment faced by Sabrina Siddiqui reflects their commitment to press freedom and their stance against any form of intimidation or harassment targeting journalists. The incident highlights the importance of protecting journalists’ ability to ask tough questions and hold leaders accountable, as well as the challenges faced by reporters covering sensitive topics in various parts of the world.