Indian campaigning journalists suffer arson attack

Picture shows Khushboo Akhtar surveying the wreckage of her home.

There’s been widespread condemnation among journalists and rights activists in India over an arson attack on the home of journalists Khushboo and Nadeem Akhtar, as well as physical threats against them.

The family home, in Sultanpuri, north Delhi was badly damaged in the fire.

The Akhtar sister and brother team run Pal Pal News, a YouTube-based political affairs channel with more than two million subscribers. Khushboo told The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that she believed the attack was retaliation for the channel’s critical coverage of the challenges faced by Indian Muslims and other under-represented groups, including vulnerable caste groups, farmers, and tribal communities.

She said that many religious items, including copies of the Quran and Ramayana, were taken out of a locked cupboard and burned before the perpetrators set the house on fire.

“I often receive rape threats and other threats through Facebook comments and on WhatsApp. But we would take it as something normal these days. But setting someone’s house on fire is not normal,” Khushboo told the Coalition for Women in Journalism.

“Most of the news stories covered by Pal Pal News concern the marginalised. Especially Muslims receive a large number of hate-filled comments and abuses. I cannot recall one story that wasn’t targeted by the right-wing and hate trolls.”

Kunāl Majumder, CPJ’s India representative, said the rising level of retaliation against Indian journalists covering the plight of minority communities was alarming, and that Khushboo and Nadeem Akhtar must be allowed to report without fear of violence or reprisal.

Violence against women journalists has been on the rise in recent years. A 2020 study reported by the Coalition for Women in Journalism revealed that 20 percent of women journalists surveyed had experienced abuse and physical attacks linked to their work.