News Brief

UN Calls On India To Protect Journalist Against Sexualized Disinformation Attacks

The United Nations human rights body has called on the Indian government to protect a prominent Indian journalist after she publicized details of death threats she has received and her experiences of being targeted with so-called “sexualized disinformation.”

Rana Ayyub, one of India’s best-known investigative reporters, said she has been targeted by what appears to be a “coordinated social media campaign” using false claims and manipulated pornographic videos aimed at portraying her as a “slut.” And her attempts to correct allegations about her have been met with threats of “gang rape,” she said in an op-ed for the New York Times.

In a report last year, Coda highlighted the growing threat women around the world face from “sexualized disinformation” spread online, detailing the case of a Ukrainian MP who has been constantly targeted with images purportedly showing her running through the streets naked.

But campaigners say it is very difficult for those targeted to correct invented allegations, and attempts to do so often invite further abuse.

When Ayyub tried to correct a claim that she had supported child rapists, she says she was “inundated with WhatsApp messages urging others to gang-rape me.”

Ayyub has carried out undercover investigations into the alleged complicity of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a 2002 communal massacre in his home state of Gujarat, as well as the involvement of other officials in extra-judicial killings.

In a statement, a group of UN human rights officials said: “We are highly concerned that the life of Rana Ayyub is at serious risk following these graphic and disturbing threats.”

They also highlighted the murder last year of another Indian journalist, Gauri Lankesh, who had also received death threats for her work.

So far, there’s been no response from the Indian government. But in her op-ed Ayyub highlighted the fact that Prime Minister Modi follows several of the individuals behind the online attacks on her, and accused him of emboldening “the virtual mob.”