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Rana Ayyub on global list of journalists under threat: Abuse of those pursuing truth must be stemmed with govt action

It is not surprising that the award-winning journalist and author of Gujarat Files Rana Ayyub finds herself on a global list of 10 journalists threatened for pursuing the truth; the list has been released by Time magazine and a dozen leading news organisations called the One Free Press Coalition. The Coalition is standing up for these journalists from different countries. In a country where truth has become a casualty, and fake news thrives, Ayyub is certainly an exception for the lengths she has gone to, including going undercover to expose the reality of the Gujarat communal riots of 2002. In any other country she would be a celebrity and her audacity and relentlessness would be celebrated. But in a world where investigating a reality beyond propaganda  is described as anti-national — specially so since she is a Muslim and has to constantly prove her credentials — Ayyub is the target of the worst kind of online harassment, which has driven her to anxiety and fears for her safety. While she has been awarded and recognised for her reporting, her life after the book was published in English and its translation into other languages has been hell.

In her many invitations to speak abroad, she has been vocal about the severe threats and harassment to other Indian journalists as well. And she would be the first to acknowledge that she is not the only one under threat as her reaction on Twitter indicates: “Not sure how I should feel about being on this list. But here I am. Among the 10 journalists facing the most urgent threats to press freedom around the world.”

Ayyub, facing escalating online threats, joins journalists from around the globe who have been killed, jailed, threatened — all in the fair pursuit of their duties. “The independent Indian journalist Rana Ayyub has spent her career covering taboo subjects, including violence against lower-caste groups and minorities in India. Because of her work, Ayyub has faced a wave of harassment on social media, including pornographic videos with her face Photoshopped in them and the publication of her address and personal phone number.” It is shameful that social media has been put to such malicious and detrimental use by her detractors who have no sense of decency or fair play and will stoop to any level to threaten, slut shame and humiliate her. And nothing and nobody can stop them, it seems.

 Rana Ayyub on global list of journalists under threat: Abuse of those pursuing truth must be stemmed with govt action

Rana Ayyub, facing escalating online threats, joins journalists from around the globe who have been killed, jailed, threatened — all in the fair pursuit of their duties. Image via Facebook/@ranaayyubjournalist

Journalist Geeta Seshu, former consulting editor of the mediawatch site The Hoot and co-founder of the Free Speech Collective, who has been monitoring free speech violations in India for the last ten years, said that Ayyub is one among the notable journalists — specially women — singled out for online harassment, physical threats of gang rape or murder, and slut shaming, whose lives were clearly in danger. Journalist Gauri Lankesh’s murder in 2017  is testimony to the fact that threats to her life were not taken seriously and the outrage came after she was gunned down in front of her home in Bengaluru. There was a need to focus on threats to journalists as a whole, more importantly those writing in the non-English media who are decidedly more vulnerable. Lankesh wrote in Kannada and was a popular writer with a clear anti-Hindutva stand. Translations of Ayyub’s book into Hindi and other languages were accompanied by increasing  abuse  and threats, Seshu said.

Ayyub was dubbed anti-national and ordered to leave for Pakistan, a favourite destination to despatch those with “anti-national” credentials. That Ayyub’s reporting and book brings out unpalatable facts is evident from the hysterical reaction it has provoked, but that she is under so much strain and emotional trauma was also recognised by the United Nations' human rights experts who, in May 2018, called on Indian authorities to act urgently to protect her after she received death threats following an online hate campaign. The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) in 2018 also issued a statement in her support, which said that it was “distressed to learn about the dangerous online attacks and social media campaign against award-winning Indian journalist Rana Ayyub”.

“Since 22 April, when a fake tweet that defended child rapists and said that Muslims are not safe in India was falsely attributed to Ayyub, dangerous online attacks against her have escalated. Her face has been morphed in videos and content calling for her to be gang-raped 'if she didn’t stop talking against Hindus and [Narendra] Modi' has been circulating widely. Most concerning, she has been doxed — that is her address and personal phone number have been made public — creating the real possibility for her cyber-attacks to become physical attacks. Although the fake tweet and account have since been deleted, other fake tweets have been circulating,” the IWMF said.

It also pointed out that “harassment in journalism and the media industry has risen to the forefront of public attention. The online world is where journalists experience most threats. When journalists are targets of online abuse, the attacks take a toll on freedom of expression and freedom of the press. The chilling effect on individual journalists and journalistic lines of inquiry can lead to the silencing of diverse voices in the media.” Many organisations have come out in her support and demanded freedom for women journalists to express themselves without fear. They demanded that the government investigate these threats and hold the social media platforms and the persons accountable but little has happened.

In the murky, unregulated world of social media, which functions with impunity and lacks any accountability, action on the ground is too little and too late. Journalists like Barkha Dutt, Sagarika Ghose, Neha Dixit, Sandhya Ravishankar (who faced physical threats and attacks for her reporting on the sand-mining mafia), Tongam Rina (associ

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Updated Date: Apr 07, 2019 12:19:01 IST

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