WASHINGTON, D.C. — At a National Press Club (NPC) event in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, NPC President Eileen O’Reilly strongly condemned the Modi government for continuing attacks on journalists, saying: “Since Modi came to power we have watched with frustration and disappointment as the regime has suppressed the rights of its citizens to a free and independent news media. We at the National Press Club demand in the strongest terms that the government stop its persecution of journalists and its suppression of press freedom in India.”
O’Reilly spoke as the leader of one of America’s most respected journalistic institutions. She was joined by Steve Reilly, governor on the National Press Club board, who also condemned the ongoing attacks on the Indian free press, including the recent ban of the BBC Documentary “India: The Modi Question.”
Reilly said, “The National Press Club has urged the government of India to rescind the ban on the BBC documentary and allow the citizens of India to decide for themselves whether they agree or disagree with its findings.” She then introduced the film, which holds the Prime Minister (the then chief minister) directly responsible for the violence of the Gujarat Pogrom of 2002.
According to numerous senior officials profiled in the documentary, including UK foreign office investigators and Indian police officers, police were ordered to stand down and let “Hindus vent their anger” as mobs slaughtered an estimated 2,000 predominantly Muslim Indians. In the process, rampaging mobs razed more than 350 Mosques, destroyed 20,000 Muslim-owned properties, and displaced an estimated 150,000 people.
After the documentary screening, NPC press freedom chair Rachel Oswald interviewed Aakashi Bhatt, daughter of jailed Indian whistleblower Sanjiv Bhatt, along with Gujarat pogrom survivor Irman Dawood and his uncle Yusuf Dawood. Aakashi Bhatt’s father Sanjiv Bhatt is serving a life sentence in prison in retaliation for testifying publicly about Modi’s complicity in the pogrom. Imran Dawood was beaten and left for dead during the pogrom. Hindu supremacists also murdered, then burned the remains of his two uncles along with a family friend.
In the interview led by Oswald, Aakashi Bhatt stated that the BBC documentary was only the “tip of the iceberg”. “These were not spontaneous but orchestrated killings,” Bhatt said. “They did not last for three days, as the documentary said, but rather three months. Police not only stood down, but in fact aided and abetted the rioters as they raped and killed Muslims. And so much of it was due to one man’s political ambition.”
Bhatt said that after her father had testified publicly against Modi’s policy, the Indian government bulldozed her family home. Commenting on her father Sanjiv Bhatt’s life imprisonment shortly after this destruction, she said, “My father was arrested for the death in custody of a man he never met. He was thousands of kilometers away while the man died in police custody, which was a death deemed to be from medical reasons. His arrest is a complete sham.”
Bhatt called on American officials and journalists to do their duty and highlight what she called the “undemocratic and anti-minority policies” of the Modi government, saying, “American journalists can freely speak out without fear of imprisonment or getting killed.”
“They must speak out against Modi. The same goes for the American government. Why is Modi being welcomed with a state visit?” Bhatt asked.
Imran Dawood also spoke sharply against the Modi government in his reflections on the pogrom, “The India I went to was love and happiness. The India I left was full of hate and disappointment,” he said. “The trauma of the pogrom will always be with me, but I won’t be defined by it. Going forward, we must denigrate the hateful ideology that allowed the pogrom to happen, the same ideology behind Modi’s ongoing bulldozer destruction of Muslim homes.”
Imran’s Uncle, Yusuf Dawood pointed to international complacency in Modi’s ascendance to power. Pointing to Twitter and Youtube’s ban on the BBC film, Yusuf said, “We must also look at how Elon Musk and others in his billionaires club caved into Modi’s demand for censorship. They are catering to the whims of an authoritarian leader.”
He concluded, “I’m frankly disgusted at how complacent the US and US media are with Modi’s abuses. The government is not just going after Muslims, but anyone who cares to speak against them.”