Rights defenders, journalists and NGOs from several parts of the world have accused the Indian establishment of “abuse” of power and a “harassment campaign” after journalist Rana Ayyub, a critic of the Narendra Modi government, was on Tuesday prevented from boarding an international flight.
Ayyub has said she was stopped by the Enforcement Directorate from boarding a flight from Mumbai to London. The agency has summoned her on Friday for questioning on the alleged misuse of funds she had received towards Covid relief.
“Sadly #Indian authorities continue to abuse power to silence critics,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted.
“Journalists are expected to self-censor, or better yet, become pro-government megaphones. They can risk arrest, threats, harassment, travel restrictions, for doing their jobs to expose policy failings.”
Amnesty International’s media manager Stefan Simanowitz tweeted: “Indian authorities must end their legal & digital harassment campaign against her.”
Ayyub, a columnist with The Washington Post, said in a statement on Tuesday: “I had an event on the first of April with some of the top jurors, editors and diplomats in London. On the 1st of April, on the invitation of Katharine Viner, the editor-in-chief of The Guardian, I was to give a speech at their office.
“On the 6th and 7th I was to be in Italy. I had tweeted about all the events three weeks in advance. My flight was at 3pm today. The immigration people were confused. An hour after back and forth, they told the immigration to tell me that they are sending me a summons to appear on the 1st of April. The summons was received by me today on mail around 2pm, exactly an hour before departure.
“All my documents had already been submitted to ED. In fact a showcause notice was also issued to be replied within a month. Not a single summons from the ED, the last being the 1st week of Jan was received by me till an hour before my flight today. And each summons was honoured and documents submitted.”
Ayyub is scheduled to deliver a lecture titled “When the State attacks: Journalism under fire in the world’s biggest democracy” at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, on April 6.
Julie Posetti, global director of research at the International Center for Journalists, co-host of Ayyub’s April 1 London event, contested the ongoing campaign against Ayyub that claims she was fleeing the law.
Posetti wrote in several tweets: “There was no order to prevent her until she was sent a summons to appear in court on April 1 while she was being held by immigration officers @ Mumbai airport yesterday…. She’s facing multiple investigations by Indian authorities in retaliation for her independent journalism BUT no formal charges have been laid.”
Former UN special rapporteur David Kaye tweeted: “For years I tried to enter #India to conduct a human rights assessment for the UN, to no avail. Journalist @RanaAyyub isn’t allowed to leave.”
Adam Roberts, digital editor of The Economist, tweeted: “This is appalling behaviour by India. Not the action of a self-confident democracy, but evidence of a government full of self-doubt.
“This harassment of Indian journalist @RanaAyyub is damaging India’s previous reputation as a tolerant place where freedom of speech was treasured. A mis-step by @narendramodi’s government.”
CPIML Liberation politburo member Kavita Krishnan tweeted: “Shameful harassment of @RanaAyyub by a vindictive Modi regime.”
Last month, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council had spoken out against the threats, online harassment and financial probes that Ayyub had faced over the past year.
The Post had last month run a full-page advertisement in Ayyub’s support, calling her a “target of prejudiced investigations”.
A PTI report cited unnamed officials to say: “The ED had first issued summons to her after the agency early this year provisionally attached over Rs 1.77 crore in bank deposits in connection with the case against her linked to alleged irregularities in charitable funds raised by her from public donors for Covid-19 relief work during 2020-2021.
“However, they said, she skipped the notice and the agency did not want her to leave the country as it could lead to a delay in the probe and the subsequent filing of a chargesheet in court.”