Al Jazeera Media Network, the English broadcasting channel, on Sunday, condemned the online harassment and death threats aimed at freelance journalist Raqib Hameed Naik by Hindu groups and ‘adherent to Hindutva’ social media users in response to his investigative report on COVID-19 relief funding to Hindu organisations based in the US.
“AJMN stands by Naik’s impeccable journalism and supports his professional contribution,” read the statement issued by the Al Jazeera Media Network.
Born a Kashmiri, Naik, an alumnus of the University of Bolton UK and Jamia Millia Islamia, has been a regular contributor to Al Jazeera English from both India and the US.
In his article published on April 2 in Al Jazeera, Naik, who is currently based in the US, wrote an investigative report that focuses on the alleged misuse of federal Covid-19 relief funds given to Hindu groups in the US. The report details how five organisations, including Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) and Hindu American Foundation (HAF), which received Covid-19 relief funding amounting to $833,000 from the United States’ Small Business Administration (SBA), “have ties to Hindu supremacist and religious groups linked back to India.”
According to the article, “SBA gave the funds under its Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance (EIDLA), Disaster Assistance Loan (DAL), and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). All three programmes aimed to provide economic relief to distressed businesses and keep their workforce employed during the COVID-19 crisis in the worst-hit nation in the world.”
While mentioning that all the five organisations are “sympathetic to Hindutva ideology”, Sunita Viswanath, co-founder of the New York-based Hindus for Human Rights, expressed her concern in the article that “the US pandemic relief funds might end up furthering [the] hate campaign against Muslims and other minorities in India.”
Following the publication of his article, Naik revealed that several “Hindus or adherents of Hindutva” hurled abuses and open death threats at him on Twitter, calling him “Islamist” and his family members “terrorists”, while citing his Kashmiri roots, education in Jamia Milia Islamia, and work based in Qatar.
Soon after, one of the Hindu nationalist groups mentioned in the article – HAF, filed a $75 million lawsuit in response to Naik’s Al Jazeera article.
“It’s a SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) lawsuit and filed only to intimidate and silence me and other activists. Its an assault on free press,” wrote Naik on May 11 while sharing the header of the lawsuit.
Naik has not been named as a direct defendant but was added as a non-party, wrote Al Jazeera in its press release.
Al Jazeera also mentioned that Naik has already reported the death threats to US law enforcement agencies but “he continues to face online harassment from individuals and groups for merely doing his work.”