UN human rights experts have said that investigative journalist Rana Ayyub has been subjected to “judicial harassment” and urged Indian authorities to “promptly” investigate “relentless misogynistic and sectarian” attacks on social media against her.
Ayyub, who is a columnist with the Washington Post, has accused the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of attacking her for her critical reporting of the government. The Post issued a full-page advertisement on Sunday in support of Ayyub saying “the free press is under attack in India”.
Irene Khan, special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression and Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, in a statement on Monday said that Ayyub has been “maliciously targeted with anonymous death and rape threats by organised groups online” for “holding power to account through her reporting”.
“The lack of condemnation and proper investigation by the government, coupled with the legal harassment it has itself inflicted on Ms. Ayyub, has only served to falsely legitimise the attacks and attackers and further endangered her safety,” the statement said.
The UN statement comes days after India’s Enforcement Directorate launched a money laundering investigation against the investigative journalist who is based in the financial hub of Mumbai.
— IPI-The Global Network for Independent Journalism (@globalfreemedia) February 21, 2022
Ayyub issued a statement saying “the allegations levelled against me will not withstand any fair and honest scrutiny.
“The smear campaign against me will not deter me from my professional commitment to continue to do my work as a journalist, and especially to raise critical issues and ask inconvenient questions, as is my duty as a journalist in a constitutional democracy.”
Last month she received online rape and death threats. The Mumbai police has arrested a person in connection with the case.
Hindu supremacist groups have filed several police complaints against her for comments on the recent hijab ban in the southern state of Karnataka governed by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
‘Baseless and unwarranted’
But India has criticised the statement by the UN, calling it “baseless and unwarranted”.
“Allegations of so-called judicial harassment are baseless & unwarranted. India upholds the rule of law, but is equally clear that no one is above the law,” read a tweet by the handle of India at UN, Geneva.
“We expect SRs [Special Rapporteurs] to be objective & accurately informed. Advancing a misleading narrative only tarnishes @UNGeneva’s reputation,” it said.
The UN rapporteurs said that Ayyub continues to be the victim of intensifying attacks and threats online by far-right Hindu nationalist groups.
They added that for the second time in six months, “Ayyub’s bank account and other assets were frozen in response to seemingly baseless allegations of money laundering and tax fraud, related to her crowd-funding campaigns to provide assistance to those affected by the pandemic.”
Last October, UN human rights experts wrote to the government in regard to threats against Ayyub.
Ayyub has spoken about attacks she faces on social media. She published the book The Gujarat Files, which investigated the Gujarat riots in 2002 when Modi was the chief minister of the western Indian state.