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Freedom of press: Gulf News journalist under attack

It may sound glamorous but investigative journalism is fraught with challenges every step of the way. Scores worldwide have been jailed (some are still imprisoned) or faced investigations because of my stories. Every day I get threatening calls from computer-generated numbers. Recently, I got 20 in one night. Eventually I had to switch off my phone. I have been implicated in a string of bogus cases and have even spent a night in a police cell. The intimidation never stops. Last fortnight, a UK resident released a YouTube video claiming he has sued me in the High Court of Justice in London for defamation, slander and libel, although what he’s done is merely submitted an online claim form. In his 20-minute video, the man talks about how I violated the ethics of journalism. But he conveniently skips the fact that his real brother, Aziz Com Mirza, who’s the subject of the story, is behind bars in Dubai since October 27 and facing charges for the very crimes which my investigations uncovered in April this year. Before his arrest, Com Mirza posted a video on Instagram challenging me to come out with proof within 24 hours. I did not respond to his post but many of his 800,000 odd followers did by trolling me for days on end. On November 14, another video surfaced on YouTube.
Aziz ‘Com’ Mirza addressing a gathering at the first public presentation of Habibi Coin at a Leverage event in London in 2017 Image Credit: Supplied This one was from India and showed a bespectacled man openly threatening me for my reports on the dodgy Heera Group which peddled a Ponzi scheme as a legitimate investment opportunity to wipe out the savings of nearly a million people including many in the UAE.
Nowhera Shaikh: CEO of India-based Heera Group Image Credit: Supplied The gentleman in the video claims I work for Indian politician Asaduddin Owaisi and hatched a conspiracy with him to destroy the India-based Heera Group. Curiously, its CEO Nowhera Shaik, who faked awards to win trust of investors, has thousands of police complaints against her and was already in jail when I first wrote about her. One year on, she’s still in prison. Since the video, Heera Group supporters have been relentlessly abusing me on Twitter. Most of these trolls seem to have joined Twitter in November with the sole intention of attacking me and the only people they follow are other trolls. What they hope to achieve, I don’t know but I marvel at their tenacity.
Some of the 96 immovable properties of Heera Group seized by Indian authorities. Image Credit: Supplied As part of a malicious campaign, they have tagged UAE authorities, Rulers and Gulf News on hundreds of abusive and absurd posts demanding action against me. Among other things I have been called a pimp, thief and a member of Owaisi’s party All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) disguised as a Gulf News journalist. Talk of conspiracy theories! The truth is that I don’t know Owaisi or any of his party member and have never visited Hyderabad where his party is headquartered.
Asadudin Owaisi is an Indian politician and president of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) Image Credit: Supplied Yet I have been also accused of taking bribes from Owaisi to write misleading reports about Heera. Some tweets are also calling for an urgent financial audit of my bank accounts. Yes, I have been offered bribes many times. Some time back a man offered me a million dirhams, another offered an SUV while yet another left a box containing the new iPhone. I ought to have been lolling in luxury by now. In the midst of all this, Indian recruitment portal Wisdom Jobs issued me a “24-hour ultimatum” after I reported how they are back to peddling fake jobs. Wisdom Jobs CEO Ajay Kolla along with 13 others were arrested by Hyderabad Police in January 2019 for defrauding thousands of jobseekers following a Gulf News report which blew the lid of their multimillion dollar global recruitment racket.
Wisdom Jobs CEO Ajay Kolla along with 13 others were arrested by Hyderabad Police in January 2019 Image Credit: Cyberabad Police Back in business, Wisdom Jobs is now dangling over 280,000 non-existent jobs in UAE. Yet it’s me who they are accusing of “using cheap tricks in the name of journalism” for sensationalism. Does all of this get to me? Yes, at times. Does it waver my resolve? Hell, no! Around the world, the threat people in our profession face is far more visceral. To stop journalists from exposing uncomfortable truths, criminals routinely engage in overt, sometimes violent, efforts to discredit their work and intimidate them into silence. Which is why it’s important to combat disinformation against journalists. Even if we don’t want to debunk the lies, we still need to do it for the sake of our core audience.
Action taken on Farooqui's reports ■ Convicted globe-trotting fraudster and Egyptian accomplice arrested and deported following investigative series on their bogus CULA Liquidity Programme. ■ 14 staffers, including CEO Ajay Kolla of Indian fake job portal Wisdom Jobs, arrested in January 2019. ■ Ajman Freezone alerts police about supposedly dead Pakistani Chaudhary Hayyab Arif Kamboh following report on how he come back to life to scam overseas companies. ■ Probe ordered into Dh15.38 million rice export scam. ■ Canadian Com Mirza, who is behind the get-rich-quick schemes exposed in April 2019, is arrested in October. ■ Certificate of Karama-based agency suspended as probe is ordered into ISO certificate scandal. ■ Several bootleggers caught by police after report on illegal sale of liquor in Naif car park. ■ Sharjah Police arrest 17 Asians for gambling and betting in public after expose on roadside gambling racket. ■ Indian police order probe into Heera Group CEO Nowhera Shaik after report on how she faked awards to gain trust of investors. ■ Four arrested following report on trading scam. ■ Pakistan chief justice takes suo motto notice of Axact fake degree scandal following story on their call centre agents impersonating UAE officials to extort money. ■ Dodgy awards function cancelled as organisers snaps ties with publication fronted by convicted fraudster Russell King after story on how he used a fake publication to rake millions of dollars. ■ Forex firm Exential’s scheme thwarted. CEO Sydney Lemos is arrested and sentenced to over 500 years in jail. ■ Job scam: UAE authorities crack down on recruitment firms offering bogus job.

It may sound glamorous but investigative journalism is fraught with challenges every step of the way. Scores worldwide have been jailed (some are still imprisoned) or faced investigations because of my stories. Every day I get threatening calls from computer-generated numbers. Recently, I got 20 in one night.

Eventually I had to switch off my phone. I have been implicated in a string of bogus cases and have even spent a night in a police cell.

The intimidation never stops. Last fortnight, a UK resident released a YouTube video claiming he has sued me in the High Court of Justice in London for defamation, slander and libel, although what he’s done is merely submitted an online claim form.

In his 20-minute video, the man talks about how I violated the ethics of journalism. But he conveniently skips the fact that his real brother, Aziz Com Mirza, who’s the subject of the story, is behind bars in Dubai since October 27 and facing charges for the very crimes which my investigations uncovered in April this year. Before his arrest, Com Mirza posted a video on Instagram challenging me to come out with proof within 24 hours. I did not respond to his post but many of his 800,000 odd followers did by trolling me for days on end. On November 14, another video surfaced on YouTube.

Aziz ‘Com’ Mirza addressing a gathering at the first public presentation of Habibi Coin at a Leverage event in London in 2017
Image Credit: Supplied

This one was from India and showed a bespectacled man openly threatening me for my reports on the dodgy Heera Group which peddled a Ponzi scheme as a legitimate investment opportunity to wipe out the savings of nearly a million people including many in the UAE.

Nowhera Shaikh: CEO of India-based Heera Group
Image Credit: Supplied

The gentleman in the video claims I work for Indian politician Asaduddin Owaisi and hatched a conspiracy with him to destroy the India-based Heera Group. Curiously, its CEO Nowhera Shaik, who faked awards to win trust of investors, has thousands of police complaints against her and was already in jail when I first wrote about her. One year on, she’s still in prison.

Since the video, Heera Group supporters have been relentlessly abusing me on Twitter. Most of these trolls seem to have joined Twitter in November with the sole intention of attacking me and the only people they follow are other trolls. What they hope to achieve, I don’t know but I marvel at their tenacity.

Some of the 96 immovable properties of Heera Group seized by Indian authorities.
Image Credit: Supplied

As part of a malicious campaign, they have tagged UAE authorities, Rulers and Gulf News on hundreds of abusive and absurd posts demanding action against me. Among other things I have been called a pimp, thief and a member of Owaisi’s party All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) disguised as a Gulf News journalist. Talk of conspiracy theories!

The truth is that I don’t know Owaisi or any of his party member and have never visited Hyderabad where his party is headquartered.

Asadudin Owaisi is an Indian politician and president of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM)
Image Credit: Supplied

Yet I have been also accused of taking bribes from Owaisi to write misleading reports about Heera. Some tweets are also calling for an urgent financial audit of my bank accounts.

Yes, I have been offered bribes many times. Some time back a man offered me a million dirhams, another offered an SUV while yet another left a box containing the new iPhone. I ought to have been lolling in luxury by now.

In the midst of all this, Indian recruitment portal Wisdom Jobs issued me a “24-hour ultimatum” after I reported how they are back to peddling fake jobs.

Wisdom Jobs CEO Ajay Kolla along with 13 others were arrested by Hyderabad Police in January 2019 for defrauding thousands of jobseekers following a Gulf News report which blew the lid of their multimillion dollar global recruitment racket.

Wisdom Jobs CEO Ajay Kolla along with 13 others were arrested by Hyderabad Police in January 2019
Image Credit: Cyberabad Police

Back in business, Wisdom Jobs is now dangling over 280,000 non-existent jobs in UAE. Yet it’s me who they are accusing of “using cheap tricks in the name of journalism” for sensationalism.

Does all of this get to me? Yes, at times. Does it waver my resolve? Hell, no! Around the world, the threat people in our profession face is far more visceral. To stop journalists from exposing uncomfortable truths, criminals routinely engage in overt, sometimes violent, efforts to discredit their work and intimidate them into silence.

Which is why it’s important to combat disinformation against journalists. Even if we don’t want to debunk the lies, we still need to do it for the sake of our core audience.

Action taken on Farooqui’s reports
■ Convicted globe-trotting fraudster and Egyptian accomplice arrested and deported following investigative series on their bogus CULA Liquidity Programme.
■ 14 staffers, including CEO Ajay Kolla of Indian fake job portal Wisdom Jobs, arrested in January 2019.
■ Ajman Freezone alerts police about supposedly dead Pakistani Chaudhary Hayyab Arif Kamboh following report on how he come back to life to scam overseas companies.
■ Probe ordered into Dh15.38 million rice export scam.
■ Canadian Com Mirza, who is behind the get-rich-quick schemes exposed in April 2019, is arrested in October.
■ Certificate of Karama-based agency suspended as probe is ordered into ISO certificate scandal.
■ Several bootleggers caught by police after report on illegal sale of liquor in Naif car park.
■ Sharjah Police arrest 17 Asians for gambling and betting in public after expose on roadside gambling racket.
■ Indian police order probe into Heera Group CEO Nowhera Shaik after report on how she faked awards to gain trust of investors.
■ Four arrested following report on trading scam.
■ Pakistan chief justice takes suo motto notice of Axact fake degree scandal following story on their call centre agents impersonating UAE officials to extort money.
■ Dodgy awards function cancelled as organisers snaps ties with publication fronted by convicted fraudster Russell King after story on how he used a fake publication to rake millions of dollars.
■ Forex firm Exential’s scheme thwarted. CEO Sydney Lemos is arrested and sentenced to over 500 years in jail.
■ Job scam: UAE authorities crack down on recruitment firms offering bogus job.

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