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New Delhi: An eleventh hour summons directing Rana Ayyub to appear before the Enforcement Directorate on April 1 – the very date she was scheduled to speak at an event in London on online violence against women journalists – led to the airport immigration authorities offloading the Mumbai-based journalist from her UK-bound flight on Tuesday afternoon.
Ayyub told The Wire that the summons was delivered by email to her at 1.46 pm, one hour and 15 minutes before her scheduled 3 pm departure, and more than 90 minutes after she had already been stopped by immigration.
The ED attached Ayyub’s bank deposits earlier this year on allegations that she misused funds received for COVID-19 relief work, a charge she rejects.
Quoting unnamed officials, PTI claimed she was stopped on the basis of an ED “lookout circular”. But the ED summons – the first the agency has sent since February 3, according to Ayyub – was issued only on March 29 and appears timed for the April 1 event in London.
Ayyub, who writes a column for the Washington Post, is the second journalist to be prevented by the authorities from leaving India citing cases being probed by agencies of the Union government.
In August 2019, NDTV co-founder and editor-in-chief Prannoy Roy and co-founder Radhika Roy were stopped from flying out of Mumbai, with immigration officials invoking a two-year-old Central Bureau of Investigation case against them. NDTV slammed the move at the time, calling it a “complete subversion of media freedom” and a “complete subversion of basic rights”.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court told the Quint‘s founding editors Raghav Bahl and Ritu Kapur – the couple is battling an ED case they say is baseless – that they were free to travel to the UK for medical purposes for a period of two weeks.
While The Wire was unable to reach the ED for a comment on its decision to prevent Ayyub from catching her flight, the Hindustan Times quoted “a senior ED official, requesting anonymity” as saying that “an LOC [look-out circular] was issued against her as she failed to comply with a summon issued to her about a few weeks back.”
However, Ayyub told The Wire that all her relevant documents had already been submitted to the ED, as requested by the agency following its February 3 summons. “After that, they gave [their] attachment order,” freezing her bank account, she said.
“In fact, a show-cause notice was also issued by the adjudicating authority two weeks ago, to be replied within a month.” She added that she has not received any summons from the ED since February 3.
The adjudicating authority is a three-member body tasked with looking into the merits of attachment orders filed by the ED under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
Apart from the International Centre for Journalism’s April 1 event on online violence against women journalists, Ayyub told The Wire that she had been invited to participate in the Guardian newspaper’s editorial news conference the same day. From London, she was scheduled to travel to Italy on April 6 to speak at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia.
All these events with @julieposetti @DoughtyStIntl @journalismfest have been planned and publicised all over my social media for weeks. Yet, curiously the Enforcement directorate summon arrived in my mail much after I was stopped at the immigration. What do you fear ?
— Rana Ayyub (@RanaAyyub) March 29, 2022
The past few years have seen the BJP-led Union government and several state governments open investigations or file criminal cases against dozens of journalists and media houses – mostly for their journalistic work or for alleged ‘financial’ crimes.
In Jammu and Kashmir, serious charges including under India’s anti-terror law, have been pressed against journalists, including, most recently, Kashmirwalla editor Fahad Shah and freelance reporter Sajad Gul.
Siddique Kappan, a Malayalam-language journalist, has been in jail for more than a year without bail – under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act – for attempting to report on the gang rape and murder of a young Scheduled Caste woman in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh.
FIRs were registered against dozens of journalists during the Covid pandemic for reports critical of the government’s handling of the crisis.
The police in Uttar Pradesh have also filed five criminal cases in the past two years against The Wire and its journalists for its news reports on different subjects.
Apart from the ED investigation – triggered by a complaint lodged by an activist of the ‘HinduIT Cell’ – Ayyub has also been the target of vicious online attacks.
The ED’s action on Tuesday sparked strong criticism from journalists around the world, with many saying that by preventing Ayyub from leaving the country, the government had confirmed the fact that journalists in India face “threats and intimidation”.
Note (November 4, 2022): A reference to The Wire’s Tek Fog findings has been edited out as the stories have now been removed from public view pending the outcome of an internal review, as one of its authors was part of the technical team involved in our now retracted Meta coverage. More details about the Meta stories may be seen here.