Indian authorities must immediately conduct a swift and thorough investigation into threats made to Mumbai-based Washington Post columnist and freelance journalist Rana Ayyub, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
Ayyub, who has long been a victim of online trolling and threats, told CPJ that she began receiving an onslaught of threats on Twitter after she tweeted her criticism of the Saudi Arabia government’s role in the ongoing Yemen war on January 22.
Since then, she has received over 26,000 tweets in response, including many rape and death threats, from social media users who posted in support of the Saudi government and India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which she has criticized in recent columns in The Washington Post.
“No journalist should have to suffer the intense online harassment and threats repeatedly directed against Rana Ayyub,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Indian authorities must take action against anyone who has threatened violence against Ayyub and ensure her safety.”
On Wednesday, the news website Scoop Beats published a video that included a doctored photo of a tweet purportedly by Ayyub, saying, “I hate India and I hate Indians,” according to the journalist and a screenshot of the video, which CPJ reviewed. Scoop Beetslater took down that video, but Ayyub told CPJ that the threats against her increased after it was published.
Ayyub filed a complaint to the Mumbai police against Scoop Beats, which CPJ reviewed; the complaint accuses the website of spreading false information about her and inciting threats.
CPJ emailed and messaged Scoop Beats founders Divya Gandotra Tandon and Akhilendra Sahu on Twitter for comment, but did not receive any replies. BJP spokesperson Syed Zafar Islam did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.
Critics of Ayyub in India claim that she is sympathetic to Yemeni militants who orchestrated a rocket attack on Saudi Arabia on December 20 in which two Indian nationals were killed; she told CPJ that her criticism of the Saudi government is solely based on its role in the Yemen war.
Social media harassment of Ayyub had included recent incidents when she was subjected to doxxing by an anti-Muslim app and was on a list of women journalists who have been subjected to targeted trolling allegedly by social media users sympathetic to the BJP.