New Delhi: The Washington Post Sunday came out in support of Indian journalist Rana Ayyub, after the Enforcement Directorate on 10 February attached funds worth Rs 1.77 crore in her name, in connection with an ongoing probe in an alleged money laundering case against the journalist.
The Washington Post, along with the Coalition Against Online Violence (Online Violence Response Hub), under the banner of The Washington Post Press Freedom Partnership, published a full page support statement in the newspaper Sunday. “Almost every day Rana Ayyub faces threats of violence and death. She has been the target of prejudiced investigations and online harassment. Her bank account was frozen over charitable work. Journalists should not fear prosecution and smear campaigns,” it said.
Ayyub is an independent journalist, who also writes for The Washington Post. Last month, Ayyub had filed a written complaint with the Mumbai Police, citing “targeted harassment” and “fake news” spread against her by a website called The Scoop Beats, which has allegedly led to a barrage of abuse and threats. The journalist’s primary point of contention was a video posted The Scoop Beats’ YouTube channel and social media, titled ‘Saudi Arabia Banned Rana Ayyub’, which she said contains photoshopped tweets of her expressing hate for India.
Meanwhile, the ED probe against Ayyub began after an FIR was filed by the Ghaziabad Police, based on a complaint by Vikas Sankrityayan — founder of an organisation called the ‘Hindu IT cell’ — who accused her of illegally acquiring public money through campaigns on Ketto in the name of charity, during the first and second Covid waves in the country.
Ayyub has called the allegations “baseless, malafide and fanciful”.
“Smear campaigns against journalists are a popular tool used by dictators all over the world. It is all the more isolating when your own media, in my case, the Indian media, choses to sit on the fence, propagates fake news and allows a virtual lynching of a journalist with half-hearted solidarity,” Ayyub told ThePrint Monday.
“Had it not been for the international media, I was left to battle this fight for dignity alone. I am proud of the Washington Post that has led a sustained campaign for justice for me and has had my back through my toughest. This is what solidarity and journalism of courage truly means,” the journalist added.
Money laundering allegations
The FIR against Ayyub was registered under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 403 (misappropriation of property), 406 (criminal breach of trust), 418 (cheating), 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), section 66D (cheating by personation by using computer resource) of the IT Act, and section 4 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002.
It stated that money had been raised by her under three campaigns — “funds for slum dwellers and farmers”, “relief work for Assam, Bihar and Maharashtra”, and “help for Covid-19 impacted people in India” between April and May 2020, June and September 2020, and May and June 2021, respectively — without any kind of “approval certificate, registration from the government which is required as per Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA)”.
The ED has since claimed that “fake bills were found to have been prepared by Ms Ayyub in the name of some entities to claim expenses on relief work. Expenses made for personal travel by air were claimed as expense for relief work. More than Rs 37 lakh was withdrawn in her sister Iffat Shaikh’s account and over Rs 1.60 crore in her father Mohd Ayyub Waquif’s bank account. All these funds were subsequently transferred to her own account”.
Funds attached by the ED include a fixed deposit of Rs 50 lakh from a Navi Mumbai savings account, available balance of Rs 57.19 lakh in an HDFC current account, and another Rs 70.08 lakh of the same HDFC savings account, in which the FD was made, sources in the agency had said.
In a statement released later, Ayyub had claimed that she had raised a total of Rs 2.69 crore from three fundraising campaigns, of which she utilised “Rs 1 crore 14 lakh and 50 thousand for relief work, out of which Rs 74.50 lakh was donated to the PM Cares Fund and the CM Cares fund of Maharashtra”, and “Rs 1.05 crore was paid as tax to the income tax department”.
The remaining amount, she had said, was turned into a fixed deposit of Rs 50 lakh for a field hospital, adding that her bank statements had been “deliberately misread”.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)