US President Biden says he raised issues on human rights and press freedom with PM Modi

Prior to Biden's visit to New Delhi, the US State Department had reiterated that it has been "regularly" raising the issue of human rights with India and will do so in the future.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US President Joe Biden, in New Delhi, Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. (Photo | PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US President Joe Biden, in New Delhi, Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. (Photo | PTI)

US President Joe Biden has said that he volunteered to raise the importance of "respecting human rights" with PM Modi, during his bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi last week. Biden made these remarks during his visit to Vietnam after leaving the Indian capital on Sunday.

"As I always do, I raised the importance of respecting human rights and the vital role the civil society and a free press have in building a strong and prosperous country with Modi," the US President said during a press conference in Hanoi.

According to the joint statement issued after Modi and Biden held bilateral talks, "The leaders re-emphasised that the shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights, inclusion, pluralism, and equal opportunities for all citizens are critical to the success our countries enjoy and that these values strengthen our relationship.

While the Indian side's readout mentioned the cooperation between Biden and Modi administrations on a number of issues, it did not mention the discussion of human rights between the two leaders.

Notably, Biden during PM Modi's visit to the US in June called religious freedom a "core principle" for India and the United States and asserted that democratic values "face challenges around the world and in each of our countries."

Prior to Biden's visit to New Delhi, the US State Department had reiterated that it has been "regularly" raising the issue of human rights with India and will do so in the future.

"We regularly raise human rights concerns with countries with which we engage, have done that — so in the past with India, and we'll do so in the future," State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters at his daily news conference held in August.

The BJP government under PM Modi has often been criticised for its handling of minorities and backsliding of press freedom in India. Critics and rights groups have continued to express concern over the Modi government's blind eye toward hate crimes and vigilante violence against Muslims and Christians.

While human rights activists continue to demand the Biden administration to keep raising these issues with India, the US is likely to tread carefully as it views New Delhi as a strategic partner towards countering China's growing geopolitical influence.

India currently ranks 161 out of 180 nations in the World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in May this year. The country had dropped 11 places from last year.

In March, the US State Department had released its annual report on religious freedom which flagged attacks against religious minorities, dissidents and journalists under the Modi government.  

Notably, the 'Democracy Index', prepared by The Economist Group's Economist Intelligence Unit, had downgraded India to a "flawed democracy" in its 2022 report due to the serious backsliding of democratic freedom under the Modi government.

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