Global study blames BJP-backed trolls for threats on journalists

New York-based International Centre for Journalists releases case studies on journalists including Rana Ayyub

February 15, 2023 10:43 pm | Updated 11:22 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Journalist Rana Ayyub. File

Journalist Rana Ayyub. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Nearly 75% of women journalists who were part of a global survey that included India said they had been targetted by online violence attacks, and 20% said they had experienced physical attacks as a consequence, said a UNESCO-funded report published by the New York-based International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ).

The group, which worked on the studies in collaboration with the “Forbidden Stories” project that has also just released its investigation into the killing of Bangalore-based journalist Gauri Lankesh in 2017, has profiled Indian columnist Rana Ayyub among a number of journalists, and has alleged that groups affiliated to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were responsible for the attacks and harassment.

Neither the government nor the BJP responded immediately to requests for a response to the study.

“Today, an army of trolls evidently aligned with the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP threaten Ayyub at scale; on a daily basis,” the ICF report said. “The abuse routinely feature threats of death and rape. They are disinformation-laced, and they display characteristics of orchestration. They are also deeply misogynistic and redolent of religious bigotry,” the case study released publicly on Tuesday said.

The ICFJ also published 15 key findings based on the analysis of more than 13 million tweets directed at Ms. Ayyub and a Qatar-based Al Jazeera anchor Ghada Oueiss. It said the results were “emblematic of what women journalists face in their own regions and beyond”, and build on the findings of a study published in 2022 that tracked online violence based on the experiences of 850 women journalists around the world. The study was led by Julie Posetti, deputy vice-president of global research, ICFJ.

The latest ICFJ report said that more than 62% of the abusive tweets Ms. Ayyub received were personal attacks and many included “rape and death threats, Islamophobic abuse, and character assassination”. It also claimed that “the online violence against [Rana] Ayyub is largely instigated and fuelled by Twitter users aligned with Hindu nationalism and India’s ruling BJP party” and were part of “Ayyub’s offline legal harassment by the Indian authorities” in response to her journalistic work. Ms. Ayyub, whose columns appear in the Washington Post, faces a number of legal charges in India, including under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) pertaining to her charity work and donations collected during the pandemic and lockdown in India in 2020. The report was brought out in partnership with a U.K.-based team at the University of Sheffield’s Computer Science department.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court dismissed a writ petition filed by Ms. Ayyub challenging a summons order issued to her by a Special Court in Uttar Pradesh on a complaint filed by the Enforcement Directorate in the case.

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