PEN International, PEN Delhi and PEN South India join the Network of Women in Media, India, to note with deep concern the sustained and apparently orchestrated social media vilification of writer and journalist Rana Ayyub, author of the award-winning book, Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up which focuses on the organised violence against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002.
On 22 April 2018, a twitter account, using the name of Republic TV, attributed a fake tweet to Ayyub in which she purportedly defended child rapists, calling them ‘human’ and apparently said Muslims were not safe in India. The twitter account, purportedly belonging to Republic TV, has since been proved to be fake by the website AltNews. The tweet, however, has spread far and wide, it has been translated into Hindi and shared with thousands on social media. Ayyub herself has been trolled and traumatised and has had her face morphed and photoshopped onto all sorts of images, and she has been threatened with gang rape if she doesn’t stop ‘talking against Hindus and (Narendra) Modi.’ Moreover, her address and personal number have been made available on the media, which has increased the harassment and threats exponentially.
This concerted, malicious misrepresentation and open intimidation as well as incitement to violence through the use of ‘fake news’ has serious implications for Rana Ayyub and, indeed, all journalists. It has a very real chilling effect on free speech and opinion. It is also in contravention of laws in India concerning violence against women.
PEN affirms our solidarity with Rana Ayyub. We condemn her vilification in the strongest terms. We ask that all responsible politicians speak out against such vilification and the spreading of fake news, and they act to rein in their followers who abuse and threaten in their names. Further we ask that the cyber crime cell of the Delhi Police take immediate steps to trace the source of the threats and act against the perpetrators, as well as to ensure the safety and security of Rana Ayyub.
We believe that it is the responsibility of social media platforms like Twitter to ensure that parody accounts can be distinguished from real ones and to intervene when their platforms are used to spread hate speech and issue threats of violence. Social media platforms must take such threats seriously and not allow themselves to be a party to such illegal acts.
We stand in solidarity with all journalists and writers in their right to freedom of expression.