Relentless misogynistic and sectarian attacks online against journalist Rana Ayyub must be promptly and thoroughly investigated by the Indian authorities and the judicial harassment against her brought to an end at once, UN human rights experts said on Monday.
Independent investigative journalist and woman human rights defender Rana Ayyub continues to be the victim of intensifying attacks and threats online by far-right Hindu nationalist groups, the experts said. They pointed to the attacks as being a result of her reporting on issues affecting minority Muslims in the country, her criticism of the Government for its handling of the pandemic and her comments on the recent ban on hijabs in schools and colleges in Karnataka.
The UN experts are Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression and Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.
“In response to Ms. Ayyub’s efforts to shine a light on public interest issues and hold power to account through her reporting, she has been maliciously targeted with anonymous death and rape threats by organised groups online,” said the experts.
“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.”
Ms. Ayyub has been subjected to legal harassment by the Indian authorities in relation to her reporting for a number of years, the experts said. On 11 February, for the second time in six months, Ms. 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. As with many of the spurious and defamatory accusations made against Ms. Ayyub in retaliation for her reporting, the experts said, the false allegations can be traced back to a far-right social media group.
UN human rights experts have previously written to the Government on a number of occasions to express their concern in relation to the threats against and legal harassment of Ms. Rana Ayyub.
“The Government is not only failing in its obligation to protect Ms. Ayyub as a journalist, but through its own investigations of Ms. Ayyub, it is also contributing to and exacerbating her perilous situation. It is imperative that the authorities take urgent measures to protect her from the onslaught of threats and hate online and end the investigation against her.”
“Baseless and unwarranted“
India’s Permanent Mission in Geneva took to twitter to call UN human rights experts’ statement as “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. We expect SRs to be objective & accurately informed. Advancing a misleading narrative only tarnishes @UNGeneva’s reputation.”, the tweet read.