News organisation Al Jazeera Media Network on Sunday condemned the online harassment and death threats made by Hindutva social media users to Indian journalist Raqib Hameed Naik for his articles on the alleged misuse of Covid-19 relief funds in the United States.
The Al Jazeera articles, published in April, said that federal Covid-19 relief funding amounting to $833,000 (over Rs 6.10 crore) had been given to the Hindu American Foundation and four other US foundations which, the reports alleged, had “ties to Hindu supremacist and religious groups”.
“Naik has already reported death threats to US law enforcement agencies but he continues to face online harassment from individuals and groups for merely doing his work,” Al Jazeera said in its statement on Sunday. “AJMN [Al Jazeera Media Network] stands by Naik’s impeccable journalism and supports his professional contribution.”
The articles said that the Hindu American Foundation, Vishwa Hindu Parishad America, Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of USA, Infinity Foundation, and Sewa International had received the funds under three programmes “aimed to provide economic relief to distressed businesses and keep their workforce employed during the Covid-19 crisis”.
One of the Al Jazeera articles quoted a statement by a group called the Coalition to Stop Genocide in India, alleging that the five groups “have ‘existential links’ with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ‘fountainhead of Hindu supremacist ideology’ and ‘ideological parent’ of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party”.
The report quoted Sunita Viswanath, co-founder of a US group called Hindus for Human Rights, expressing concern that these five organisations could use these funds to “further a hate campaign against Muslims and other minorities in India”.
On May 7, the Hindu American Foundation filed a defamation suit in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, naming him as one of the non-party co-conspirators. It also named some of the people quoted in the articles, including Hindus for Human Rights co-founders Viswanath and Raju Rajagopal, and Rutgers University professor Audrey Truschke, who had tweeted about the story and the Hindu American Foundation.
“It’s a SLAPP lawsuit & filed only to intimidate & silence me and other activists,” Naik wrote. “It’s an assault on free press.” SLAPP, or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, are lawsuits aimed at censoring allegedly slanderous or libelous publication or speech.
Supporters of the Hindu groups, however, continued to harass Naik on social media and have also issued him death threats.