India criticised at Unesco-sponsored press freedom event
India slips to 161 (of 180) in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom ranking
Rana Ayyub, a controversial Indian journalist writing for US media, has called for shifting global attention to media freedom in India as she spoke at a Unesco-sponsored event at the world body.
"It is important for the world to shift its attention to India because we do not really talk about India as much and I really hope you do that in the days to come," she said on Tuesday questioning New Delhi's democratic credentials and its press freedom at the conference held on the eve of the World Press Freedom Day in the General Assembly chamber.
"When we talk about attacks in the press, we normally never look at India as much because India is seen as this place of democracy, you know, syncretic values and cultural pluralism."
Earlier at the 30th Anniversary of the World Press Freedom Day Global Conference, New York Times Publisher A.G. Sulzberger got the criticism of India rolling, saying that "in India, authorities have raided newsrooms and treated journalists essentially as terrorists".
"In countries where press freedoms were strong, including the United States, journalists now face systematic campaigns to undermine their credibility, followed by attacks on the legal protections that safeguard their work," he said.
Samantha Power, the administrator of the US government's Agency for International Development (USAID), announced the launch of Reporters Shield, a programme to offer investigative journalists around the world insurance from defamation lawsuits and legal threats meant to "silence critical voices".
Ayyub, who works for The Washington Post, said while seated at the General Assembly dais: "I have normally seen world leaders talk about democratic values right here at this podium (and) some of us journalists watching it on TV look at them and like, 'Hey, you are anything but democratic."
While detailing what she said were attacks on press freedom, she said: "I come from India, the land of democracy, which prides itself on, about democratic values. I love my country more than I love any other entity in the world, but which is why it is more important for me."
She claimed that she was facing "legal warfare" through charges of money laundering and tax evasion and cases of defamation for her work as a journalist going back to an undercover assignment where she said she wore "eight cameras on my body" posing as a "Hindu nationalist".
She referred to the killing in 2017 of journalist Gauri Lankeshwar, who had translated her book into Kannada and who she said had dismissed threats as "paper tigers".
She said that she has been receiving threats of death and physical attacks on social media and at her house.
Mumbai Police, she asserted, were indifferent saying that the threats were only online.
Ayyub, who stressed her Muslim identity, claimed that "there is a sustained attack on the 200 million Muslim minorities on the lower caste in India systematically even as the country gears up to hold the G20 Summit in India, where world leaders are coming to India and (will be) talking about the virtues of democracy".
Notably, the published list of speakers at the conference did not include anyone from China, either working there, or a dissident abroad.
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