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UN experts demand end to ‘misogynistic, sectarian’ attacks on Indian Muslim journalist

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Indian Journalist Rana Ayyub (File Photo)

The UN human rights experts have called for an end to “misogynistic and sectarian” online threats against a prominent Muslim Indian journalist, who is a fierce critic of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu majoritarianism.

In a statement on Monday, 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, called for prompt and thorough investigation by the Indian authorities into the misogynistic and sectarian attacks online against Ayyub and an end to judicial harassment against her.

The development came after Rana Ayyub, 37, claimed that she was being threatened of death or rape through a relentless online campaign, purportedly spearheaded by BJP activists.

The rapporteurs, who are mandated to report to the UN, said she was the “victim of intensifying attacks and threats online by far-right Hindu nationalist groups.”

Relentless misogynistic and sectarian attacks online against journalist @RanaAyyub must be promptly and thoroughly investigated by the #Indian 🇮🇳 authorities and the judicial harassment against her brought to an end at once, stress @UN_SPExperts.

— UN Geneva (@UNGeneva) February 21, 2022

“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,” the statement added.

The UN experts said the attacks were in response to Ayyub’s reporting on India's minority Muslims’ issues, her criticism of the government’s handling of the COVID-19, and her commentary on the recent hijab ban at schools and colleges in the southern state of Karnataka.

They have previously written to the Indian government on a number of occasions to express their concern in relation to the threats against Ayyub.

“The (Indian) 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,” the statement noted.

Reacting to the statement, the Indian mission in Geneva said “allegations of so-called judicial harassment” were “baseless and 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 UN Geneva’s reputation,” it said in a statement posted on Twitter.

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

— India at UN, Geneva (@IndiaUNGeneva) February 21, 2022

Rana Ayyub is an Indian journalist and opinion columnist with The Washington Post. She is also the author of the investigative book ‘Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up’, which exposes the involvement of senior BJP leaders in anti-Muslim riots in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002.

Media rights group Reporters Without Borders places India at a low rank of 142 in its World Press Freedom Index, saying that "pressure has increased on the media” under Modi’s leadership.

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