Indian journalist and author, Rana Ayyub speaks at the launch of her book 'Gujarat Files' on May 27, 2016 in New Delhi ( AFP / CHANDAN KHANNA)

Muslim Indian journalist targeted by imposter tweet falsely claiming she 'defended child rapists'

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A Muslim Indian journalist has been criticised online after she was purportedly quoted in a tweet by an Indian news channel as defending "child rapists".  However, the purported tweet, which has circulated online since at least 2018, is from an imposter account for Republic TV. The news channel said it had never posted the message on its social media, and AFP found no evidence it was published online. Journalist Rana Ayyub -- a fierce critic of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government -- previously refuted the claim in 2019 after similar posts circulated online.

The screenshot appears to show a tweet from April 23, 2022 from Republic TV that reads: "Minor child rapists are also human, do they have no human rights.

"This Hindutva Government is bringing ordinance for death to child rapists just to hang muslims in larger numbers. Muslims aren't safe in India anymore: Rana Ayyub." 

"Hindutva" refers to the Hindu nationalist ideology of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The screenshot features a photo of Ayyub, who says she has been a victim of relentless harassment by far-right Hindu groups -- including rape threats-- because of her reporting on issues including the marginalisation of India's minority Muslims, AFP reported.

A screenshot of the misleading tweet captured on April 29, 2022

AFP found the screenshot has circulated online since at least 2018.

It was recirculated in 2022 on Twitter, including here and here, and on Facebook here and here.

The posts prompted condemnation of Ayyub by some users.

"I hope she realises what she has said," one post read.

"People like her create division. The criminals do not have religion. They should be prosecuted. Feeling shame on her statement," another person commented.

However, the posts do not show a genuine tweet from Republic TV.

Imposter account

The handle @RepubIicTV has been suspended, while a similar handle @republictv is a live account that belongs to a now-defunct TV production company based in Scotland.

The news channel's official Twitter handle is @republic.

An advanced search on Twitter retrieved no results for the purported tweet.

A Republic TV spokesperson said the channel never reported the comments shared in the tweet. 

"We would like to bring it on record that this Twitter handle neither belongs to any entity or part of the Republic Media Network nor is it in any way associated, affiliated or linked to the Republic Media Network," they told AFP.

Republic Media Network or any of its affiliates do not in any way associate, or endorse any post by the handle "@republicTV," they added. 

'It's a fake'

Ayyub previously denied she had ever made the comments in 2019.

"This fake photo-shopped tweet that shows me advocating child rapists in the name of Islam is being circulated yet again all over social media," she tweeted on June 11, 2019 alongside a screenshot of the post.

AFP could not find any posts or comments online made by the journalist that correspond with the claim in the misleading posts.