Three Asian women journalists fight for independent press

(From L-R) Maria Ressa, Rozina Islam, and Rana Ayyub

Canada-based International Freedom of Exchange (IFEX) has published an article on the people who have been exceptionally and in an inspiring way, pushing back against authoritarian governments’ attempts to suppress freedom of expression, human rights and democracy in the Asia and Pacific region in the last year.

The article highlighted the roles of three female journalists of the region. The journalists are Rana Ayyub in India, Rozina Islam in Bangladesh, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa in the Philippines.

IFEX is a global network of over 119 institutions and organisations that have been working to ensure human rights and freedom of expression.

IFEX’s Asia and Pacific regional editor Mong Palatino, in the article published on 5 January this year, said, “The continuing pandemic exacerbated the suffering of many in 2022, but we also witnessed how resistance emerged in a context of intensified political crisis and government repression across the region. Protesters demanding the ouster of corrupt regimes, journalists exposing abuse, women resisting tyranny, and civil society groups promoting solidarity.”

Palatino mentioned about the young women Afghanistan students who organised protests asserting their right to education and the freedom to access employment and other services, and women journalists who continued their work despite threats to their safety in Myanmar.

The article specially mentioned about Rana Ayyub, Rozina Islam and Maria Ressa. It said, “… women journalists such as Rana Ayyub in India, Rozina Islam in Bangladesh, and Maria Ressa in the Philippines have demonstrated the essential role of independent media in holding officials accountable. The support they received after being persecuted for their reporting underscores the power of solidarity to overcome relentless, state-backed attacks.”

Rozina Islam, who has been working at Prothom Alo for over a decade, faced harassment, torture and made accused in a case filed under a colonial-era law for her reports that uncovered the irregularities and corruption in Bangladesh’s health sector during the times of Covid-19 pandemic. Despite this she has been continuing her work.

In the second week of December 2022, Rozina Islam was honoured with a special award by the United States for her contribution in the fight against corruption through journalism.

Earlier that year, she received Free Press Award for courageous journalism. She won the award in the ‘Most Resilient Journalist’ category by the Amsterdam-based organisation Free Press Unlimited.

India’s award winning journalist Rana Ayyub is a columnist of Washington Post. She faced heavy trolling online for criticising Narendra Modi, prime minister of India, a country gradually shifting towards right-wing Hindutva ideology.

In a tweet in January last year, Rana Ayyub talked about the violation of rights of general people of Yemen. For this she faced trolls of the supporters of Saudi Arabia. Over 26,000 tweets were posted in a day threatening Rana Ayyub of raping and killing her family members. But this does not end there.

The government of India ordered to confiscate Rana Ayyub’s wealth and bank accounts. Allegations of irregularities in handling a fund, constituted to help the victims of Covid-19 pandemic, were brought against the journalist.

But nothing could deter Rana Ayyub from her position.