India slams ‘baseless, unwarranted’ allegations of harassment against Rana Ayyub

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Geneva/New Delhi (UNI): India has slammed “baseless and unwarranted” allegations by the UN Human Rights Office of “so-called judicial harassment” against journalist Rana Ayyub and will be handing over a Note Verbale to the UN Office in Geneva.

India’s Permanent Mission in Geneva in a tweet on Monday said that “India upholds the rule of law, but is equally clear that no one is above the law. “ It slammed the report by the UN Special Rapporteurs criticizing the Enforcement Directorate action on Ayyub, saying “We expect SRs (Special Rapporteurs) to be objective & accurately informed.” It said the UN Office in Geneva by citing a “misleading narrative” was only tarnishing its own reputation. The tweet by India’s UN Office read: “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 (Special Rappoteurs) to be objective & accurately informed. Advancing a misleading narrative only tarnishes @UNGeneva’s reputation.” India’s Permanent Mission in Geneva will send a Note Verbale to the UN Office in Geneva. They will also take it up with the UN Office in Geneva, said sources.

On Monday, the UN Office in Geneva tweeted a report by two “experts” or Special Rapporteurs – Irene Khan and Mary Lawlor – on Ayyub. The tweet said: “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,” and attached the report.

The report by the two SRs, said that “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”.

“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.”

“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,” they said.

“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. 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 false allegations can be traced back to a far-right social media group,” it said. “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,” it stated.

On Sunday, The Washington Post came out in support of Rana Ayyub, after the Enforcement Directorate on February 10 attached funds worth Rs 1.77 crore in her name, in connection with an ongoing probe in an alleged money laundering case against her. The Washington Post, along with the Coalition Against Online Violence (Online Violence Response Hub), under the banner of The Washington Post Press Freedom Partnership, published a full page support statement in the newspaper Sunday.

“Almost every day Rana Ayyub faces threats of violence and death. She has been the target of prejudiced investigations and online harassment. Her bank account was frozen over charitable work. Journalists should not fear prosecution and smear campaigns,” it said. On Monday, Free Press Unlimited, a member of the Coalition Against Online Violence, came together with the other participating organisations to express concerns regarding Ayyub’s case.

It said: “Credible threats against Washington Post columnist Rana Ayyub, in a context of prolific online violence and increasing legal harassment by the Indian government, have triggered 12 international civil society organizations to unite in her defense.”

“The Coalition Against Online Violence (CAOV) has issued an alert about the high-profile independent investigative reporter based in Mumbai, India, who’s been the target of a sustained and crude intimidation campaign designed to silence her. The attacks have escalated badly in recent weeks, with a combination of legal threats and brutal online abuse creating a high risk situation which threatens to morph into physical violence.

“We demand India’s central government end its instigation and inflammation of attacks on Ayyub, which risk turning the digital lynch mob into a murderous horde,” COAV said. “She has been doxxed, repeatedly threatened with rape and murder, and she is legitimately afraid for her life. This must stop.”

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