The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, has stated in a report that tribal activist Soni Sori “continues to be harassed and slandered by police”, and mentioned the arrest of lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj under sections of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act [UAPA] as a victim of “smear campaign.”
The report deals with the “Situation of Women Human Rights Defenders”, and has one more specific reference to events in India: it says Indian journalist Rana Ayyub was “subjected to an online hate campaign”.
The report was submitted before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in its fortieth session, being held between February 25 and March 25.
A summary of the 20-page report states, “…Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, reviews the situation of women human rights defenders…. He focuses in particular on the additional gendered risks and obstacles women human rights defenders face and recognizes their important role in the promotion and protection of human rights…”
The report notes, “Women defenders belonging to minority groups are often at greater risk of prejudice and discrimination because of their activism and their minority backgrounds. In Chhattisgarh, India, for example, Adivasi schoolteacher Soni Sori continues to be slandered, harassed and intimidated by the police for her activism. In February 2016, she was the victim of an acid attack by unidentified assailants who warned her not to complain about the Inspector General of Bastar District and threatened her daughter.
“In 2011, she was arrested on eight charges. She was acquitted of seven of them and granted bail in connection with the eighth. While in custody, she reported being tortured and sexually harassed.”
On Bhardwaj, “a lawyer who assists Adivasis, Dalits, workers and farmers,”, the report notes that she “endured a vicious smear campaign and was arrested on 28 August 2018 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Her house was raided, her personal items seized, and she has been placed under house arrest.”
In a section that deals with “online harassment, violence and attacks”, the report cites the example of the “online hate campaign” against Ayyub. The section states, “Women human rights defenders are often subjected to online harassment, violence and attacks, which include threats of sexual violence, verbal abuse, sexuality baiting, doxing (a practice in which private information about a person is shared online by others) and public shaming. Such abuse occurs in comments on news articles, blogs, websites and social media…”
Referring to Ayyub, the report states, “In April 2018, Indian investigative journalist Rana Ayyub was subjected to an online hate campaign and death threats when she was misquoted on Twitter. She was threatened with sexual violence on social media and subjected to misogynistic vitriol and hate speech for being a Muslim woman. A deepfake pornographic video manipulated to include her face was circulated. She was doxed and bombarded with sexual messages. Her reports to the police were not taken seriously, and the perpetrators have yet to be brought to justice.”