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UN experts slam online attacks on Indian Muslim female journalist

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NEW DEHLI: UN rights experts have called for an end to “misogynistic and sectarian” online attacks against a Muslim Indian woman journalist, asking the authorities to investigate the harassment.

But India has rejected the United Nations allegations of judicial harassment of journalist Rana Ayyub, calling them “baseless and unwarranted”.

Rana Ayyub, a fierce critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Hindu nationalist ideology of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been the target of a relentless campaign of online abuse – including death and rape threats.

She is the “victim of intensifying attacks and threats online by far-right Hindu nationalist groups”, the independent rapporteurs, who do not speak for the United Nations but are mandated to report to it, said in a statement on Monday.

They said these attacks were in response to Ayyub’s reporting on issues affecting India’s minority Muslims, her criticism of the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, and her commentary on the recent hijab ban at schools and colleges in the southern state of Karnataka.

The rapporteurs added that the Indian government had failed to condemn or investigate the attacks.

She “has been subjected to legal harassment by the Indian authorities in relation to her reporting”, they said, including the freezing of her bank account and other assets.

Ayyub, 37, began as an investigative journalist and wrote a book accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of being complicit in deadly sectarian violence in Gujarat in 2002, when he was state premier.

She has since become a commentator for The Washington Post and other media.

This week, the Post put out a full-page advert saying Ayyub faces threats almost daily and that the free press is “under attack” in India.

A tweet from India’s permanent representative at Geneva and other international organisations reiterated that the UN was “advancing a misleading narrative”.

The statement came after the UN called for an investigation into “relentless misogynistic and sectarian attacks online” against journalist Rana Ayyub and an end to her “judicial harassment”.

Official sources told to Indian media in New Delhi said, “the matter will be followed up by a note verbale from the Indian mission in Geneva”.

Earlier this month, the enforcement directorate had locked Ayyub’s assets worth over Rs 1.77 crore after an FIR had been registered, alleging that Ayyub acquired money from the public in the name of charity. The UN called these “baseless allegations”, while Ayyub had issued a detailed statement saying they were “preposterous, wholly mala fide and belied by record”.

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