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BJP IT Cell Targeting Journalists in Fake News Campaigns and Online Lynching (Picture: Collage of Ravi Kumar By Tony Sojka via Wikimedia Commons, Rana Ayyub By Zuhairali from Wikimedia Commons)

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Information and Technology (IT) wing is engaged in a vilification project of Rana Ayyub and Ravish Kumar, two prominent journalists in Indian media, for their anti right wing stance. Organized attack on these journalists range from slander to sexual harassment. Death threats have been issued against the journalists and there has been no action from the cyber cell or the police to put an end to it.

Fake news is being generated to spread communal tension and is being used as a means to plan violent cyber attacks on journalists. Rana Ayyub, journalist, lodged a complaint in Delhi about a fake news being spread in her name. A quote was being attributed to her with her picture and was being shared widely on internet starting from April 22, 2018. Hindu religious fundamentalists promptly started using the fake to give rape and death threats to Ayyub.

In addition to this, Ayyub’s face was pasted in porn videos and these morphed videos were circulated in various digital platforms. Her telephone number and address were made public.

Rana Ayyub is a freelance journalist who is noted for her work on the 2002 Gujarat genocide that killed Muslims in Gujarat with the sanction of Narendra Modi, who was the then Chief Minister of the state. Often, her Muslim identity is attacked by the violent mob on social media.

The fake quote attributed to Ayyub read ‘Minor child rapists are also human, do they have no human rights. This Hindutva Government is bringing ordinance for death to child rapists just to hang muslims in larger numbers. Muslims aren’t safe in India anymore.’ Government had recently passed an ordinance that would help grant capital punishment to those who raped children. The tweet was in such a way as to make it look like it was from Republic TV, a news channel with a history of pro – BJP stance.

Even though Ayyub clarified using her social media accounts that the quote was not hers, it had little effect on the cyber warriors who were issuing rape and death threats and morphing porn videos.

Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) called the attack an ‘orchestrated social media vilification’ and demanded that action be taken against the culprits behind this heinous crime. They also said that social media platforms like Twitter had to take steps to identify fake accounts and tweets and intervene in the case of fake news, hate speech etc.

‘If this is the depth of their hatred, what will stop them from coming into my house as a mob and kill me?’ Ayyub said in a DailyO report. In India, her fear is not unfounded. Just between January and April, 2018, three journalists have been killed in India. In September, 2017, journalist Gauri Lankesh was shot to death at her home. Murders are supplemented with defamation suits filed by powerful politicians against independent media houses. Some are charged with sedition. Majority of these journalists were targeted for their anti-right wing reports and investigations.

Ravish Kumar, a journalist with NDTV has been receiving deaths threats on his family for the past four days, a social media post by activist Dhruv Rathee said. ‘His phone rings every five minutes, an unknown number calls, abuses and threatens him. Every five minutes, a new unknown number calls from different locations,’ he said.

These incidents are throwing light into an organized attempt by right wing Hindu fundamentalists to silence voices of dissent, especially in media. Recently, India had dropped 3 places in its ranking in the World Press Freedom Index. The reason stated in the report was exactly what Ayyub and others are going through. ‘With Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of “anti-national” thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media,’ it cited as the reason for the drop in places.

Attacks on journalists are at an all time high and the online harassment such as in the case of Ayyub and Kumar seem to function as the cyber equivalent of murders.

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[…] Sardesai’s tweet comes at a time when Indian media houses and media persons who refuse to join the RSS group and promote their agenda are being attacked for their stance. […]