Newsclick claims in its statement that the line of questioning adopted by the Delhi police was regarding reportage on issues such as the Delhi riots and the farmers’ protests.
ON Tuesday, a special cell of the Delhi police conducted raids on offices and residences of journalists, commentators and activists connected with the online news portal Newsclick.
The raids were conducted in more than 30 locations in Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad, where journalists and contributors were questioned and their electronic devices seized.
Newsclick’s director and editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha and human resources head Amit Chakravarty have been arrested.
The online video news network has been on the radar of the government for quite some time for its investigative journalism from a left-of-centre perspective, which has often been critical of the present Union government’s policies.
This year, investigations against Newsclick and the independent organisations and journalists they support or are supported by started in August 2020, when the Economic Offences Wing of Delhi police filed a first information report under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for allegedly violating the foreign direct investment norms.
In February 2021, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) raided several locations linked to Newsclick on charges of money laundering.
In June 2021, the Delhi High Court directed the ED to not take any coercive action against Newsclick and Purkayastha until July 5 in the money laundering case.
The protection was subsequently extended till September 2.
In respect of the case registered by the Economic Offences Wing in 2020, the high court also granted protection from arrest to Purkayastha and Newsclick’s editor Pranjal Pandey.
The latest round of investigations was triggered by a New York Times (NYT)piece, published on August 5, that alleged that Newsclick received its funds from American billionaire Neville Roy Singham, and “sprinkled its coverage with Chinese government talking points.”
Sigham was alleged to be connected with the Chinese government.
Newsclick denied the allegations as being unfounded and without basis in law or fact. It also pointed out that the NYT piece did not underline any violation of law, nor did it give any specific examples of articles or videos to substantiate the claims.
On August 7, the report wascited during the Monsoon session of the Parliament, alleging that Newsclick received Chinese funding.
On August 17, the Delhi policereportedly registered a case under various Sections of theUnlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1976 (UAPA) against Newsclick on allegations of terrorist activities, terror funding, criminal conspiracy and promoting enmity between two groups.
Following the raids, the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur stated that the raids do not need to be justified. He also said that the investigating agencies are free to carry out investigations under the set guidelines.
In its press release on Tuesday, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL)— one of India’s leading human rights organisations— expressed its shock that the journalists were charged under the draconian UAPA.
According to the PUCL statement, Newsclick is charged with Sections13 (punishment for unlawful activities),16 (punishment for terrorist act),17 (punishment for raising funds for terrorist act),18 (punishment for conspiracy) and22C (punishment for offences by companies, societies or trusts) of the UAPA.
Additionally, PUCL’s statement notes that news professionals are also charged under Sections153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence) and120B (punishment for criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Newsclick claims in its statement that it has not been provided with a copy of the first information report or informed about the particulars of the charges.
Substantiation of charges
According to an official statement by Newsclick, however, the special cell of Delhi Police has not referred to any article or video from Newsclick that they consider to be Chinese propaganda.
Instead, Newsclick’s statement alleges that the line of questioning adopted by the police was regarding reportage on issues such as the Delhi riots and the farmers’ protests.
In their media interaction after the interrogation, journalists havereportedly stated that they were also questioned on their intention of covering such issues and on writing “against the country and government”.
According to Newsclick’s statement, its offices and residences of officials have been previously raided by the ED, the Economic Offences Wing of Delhi police and the Income Tax department.
Moreover, as per Newsclick, all bank statements, invoices, expenses incurred, sources of funds received by Newsclick in the last several years have been scrutinised by different agencies of the government from time to time.
Various directors and other related persons have spent countless hours being interrogated by the government agencies, the statement adds.
Newsclick claims that despite the searches and the interrogation in the last two years, however, the ED, the Economic Offences Wing of Delhi Police or the Income Tax department have not been able to substantiate any charges against the news organisation.
We have full faith in the courts and the judicial process: Newsclick’s statement
The official statement by Newsclick condemns the actions of the government officials for allegedly refusing to respect journalistic independence and treating criticism as sedition or ‘anti-national’ propaganda.
The statement also states that electronic devices were seized from the premises of Newsclick and the homes of employees. The due process required to be followed during such seizure, such as the provision of seizure memos, hash values of the seized data, or even furnishing copies of the data to the accused, were not adhered to, Newsclick adds in its statement.
According to the statement, electronic devices of those associated with Newsclick have been seized in the past and their communications have been analysed.
In its statement, Newsclick clarifies that it does not publish any news or information at the behest of any Chinese entity.
Newclick also states that it does not take directions from Neville Roy Singham on the content published on its website.
The statement says for the record that all funding received by Newsclick has been through appropriate banking channels and reported to relevant authorities.
Expressing faith in the courts and the judicial process, Newsclick vows to fight for journalistic freedom and their lives in accordance with the Constitution.
Stop criminalising journalists and intimidating the media: PUCL’s statement
A press statement released by the PUCL on Tuesday condemns the police raids on journalists and media houses.
According to the statement, “To label what is an exercise of a constitutional right [of journalists and media professionals] underArticle 19(1)(a) as a terror-related offence or an unlawful activity which challenges the sovereignty and integrity of India is to distort and stretch the meaning of terrorism to criminalise all forms of dissent.”
The PUCL points to Newclick’s “impeccable” news reporting where the statement notes that despite allegations against the news portal, the editor and journalists have continued fulfilling their professional responsibilities.
The PUCL expresses serious concern over the manner in which the Delhi police seized data from the electronic devices of the journalists. The statement reiterates that in several instances, the data was confiscated without even providing a hash value, thus compromising the integrity of the data and the identity of the sources.
The statement terms the seizure as “an egregious assault on the right to privacy, the right to dignity as well as the freedom of journalists to practise their profession fearlessly.”
Further, the PUCL states that the journalists are detained and questioned for hours to harass and intimidate them, and as a reprisal for their fair and brave reporting.
On the timing of the raids, the statement opines that since all cases against Newsclick and Purkayastha are listed before the Delhi High Court, the raids are carried out to influence public opinion and the court.
The PUCL statement emphasises that Indiaranks 161out of 180 nations in the World Press Freedom Index and warns of the growing precarity in the practice of journalism in the country.
Finding echoes of the Emergency of 1975–77 in such “unconstitutional” raids, the PUCL calls upon all sections of the society to condemn this act of the Delhi police and Union home ministry.
On Wednesday, several journalist groups wrote to the Chief Justice of India Dr D.Y. Chandrachud on concerns over journalists arrested under the UAPA.
In particular, the letter prayed for framing of norms to discourage the seizure of journalists’ phones and laptops.
The letter also requested formulation of guidelines on the interrogation of journalists and to ensure accountability of State agencies and individual officers who indulge in vague investigation of journalists.
The Press Club of India, DIGIPUB News India Foundation and Editors Guild of India have expressed their deep concerns about the raids at the homes of journalists associated with Newsclick.
Anarticle in the NYT, while describing Newsclick as “a scrappy outlet best known for its sharp invective against Narendra Modi, the country’s right-wing prime minister,” announced that two months ago the NYT had published an investigation that connected NewsClick to an international network that funds pro-China propaganda, along with other material.