A day after the arrest of its editor-in-chief and head of human resources, and the raids on over two dozen journalists associated with it, news outlet NewsClick released a statement on Wednesday, 4 October, contending that it was not informed of particulars of the offences it has been charged with.
“We have not been provided with a copy of the FIR or informed about the exact particulars of the offences with which we have been charged. Electronic devices were seized from the NewsClick premises and homes of employees, without any adherence to due process such as the provision of seizure memos, hash values of the seized data, or even copies of the data,” the statement said.
The Delhi Police arrested its founder and editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha and head of human resources Amit Chakravarty on Tuesday, over a case filed under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) following allegations the portal received money for pro-China propaganda.
They were sent to seven days of police custody, officials said on Wednesday.
Delhi court issues notice
Meanwhile, a city court on Wednesday issued notice to the Delhi police on a plea filed by Purkayastha and Chakravarty seeking a copy of the FIR.
Additional Sessions Judge Hardeep Kaur directed police to file its response by tomorrow when the court will hear arguments on the application.
The court, meanwhile, agreed to hand over a copy of the remand application, filed by police, to Advocate Arshdeep Singh Khurana, the counsel for the accused.
Khurana requested the court for a copy of the FIR so he could move the Delhi High Court for legal remedies available to the accused.
The court also allowed the counsel to meet the accused for one hour daily during the remand period.
The judge posted the matter for tomorrow, after the city police submitted its Special Public Prosecutor was not present to argue the matter.
‘A chilling message to all journalists’
Police on Tuesday searched for more than 30 locations, questioned several journalists in connection with the case. They were allowed to go after questioning that, in some cases, extended to over six hours.
Among those questioned were journalists Urmilesh, Aunindyo Chakravarty, Abhisar Sharma, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta as well as historian Sohail Hashmi, satirist Sanjay Rajoura, and D Raghunandan of the Centre for Technology & Development.
Meanwhile, Pranjoy Guha Thakurtha, one among the questioned, told South First: “They couldn’t get him (Prabir) under the PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act), the FEMA (Foreign Exchange Management Act) or the Income Tax Acts, so finally they got him under police custody under UAPA.”
“I haven’t seen the FIR. It is said that the FIR was launched on the 17th of August. So almost a month-and-a-half later, all these things happened. It is sending a chilling… message to all journalists that this is what the government is capable of doing,” he said.
“They don’t want independent critical journalism to continue in this country. That’s the only conclusion I can draw,” Guha Thakurta added.
Protests by joiurnalists’ organisations
Various journalist organisations and political parties had on Tuesday condemned the police action against the news portal and had called it an attempt to muzzle the press.
Several journalist and civil rights groups are organising and planning to organise protests across the country.
Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS), a student organisation based in Delhi, and the Student’s Federation of India (SFI) protested against the arrests and the government action against NewsClick at Jantar Mantar on Wednesday.
The banners of the protesters demanded to “stop murdering free press” and to “stop curbing the freedom of expression”.
NewsClick statement: ‘Not even a single complaint was filed’
In its statement issued on Wednesday, NewsClick said that it had been the target of the central investigation agencies, including the Enforcement Directorate (ED) since 2021 and that even after several rounds of investigations the agencies could not file even a single complaint against it.
“All bank statements, invoices, expenses incurred, and 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 on several occasions being interrogated by these government agencies,” NewsClick said.
“Yet, in the last two-plus years, the Enforcement Directorate has not been able to file a complaint accusing NewsClick of money laundering. The Economic Offences Wing of Delhi Police has not been able to file a charge sheet against NewsClick for offences under the Indian Penal Code. The Income Tax Department has not been able to defend its actions before the Courts of law,” it added.
NewsClick also said that Prabir Purkayastha was not even questioned once by the investigation officials prior to the arrest.
“The government that has not been able to substantiate any charges against NewsClick despite being in possession of all its information, documentation, and communications, (and) needed a motivated and bogus article published in The New York Times to invoke the draconian UAPA and attempt to shut down and stifle independent and fearless voices that portray the story of the real India — of peasants, of labourers, of farmers, and other oft-ignored sections of society.”
““… the line of questioning adopted by the Special Cell of the Delhi Policy regarding reportage on the Delhi riots, the farmers protests, etc, all demonstrate the motivated and malicious intent behind the present proceedings.”
“NewsClick‘s office has also been sealed in a blatant attempt at preventing us from continuing our reporting,” it added.
‘Actions of an autocratic state’
The issue also caused political ripples, with the Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Samajwadi Party reacting to the searches and criticising the Union government.
Opposition bloc INDIA strongly condemned the raids and said that the BJP government’s “coercive” actions are directed only against those who speak truth to power and not against those who spread hatred and divisiveness.
Meanwhile, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor expressed shock at the arrests and said the raids and the arrests were indicative of an autocratic government.
“Shocked to learn of the raids on 30 journalists in Delhi and arrests of several of them. These are not the actions of a ‘mother of democracy’ but of an insecure and autocratic state,” he said on X.
“Why does a government as strong & authoritarian as this one is, feel threatened by a news website? And that too, one that is not even ranked very high in reach or readership? Intolerance is unworthy of everything that India represents. The government has disgraced itself and our democracy today,” he added.
Shocked to learn of the raids on 30 journalists in Delhi and arrests of several of them. These are not the actions of a “mother of democracy” but of an insecure and autocratic state. Why does a government as strong & authoritarian as this one is, feel threatened by a news…
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) October 3, 2023
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Wednesday termed the Delhi Police action against news portal NewsClick as “objectionable” and a “fascist method” of suppressing dissenting voices.
Vijayan, in a statement issued by his office, said the efforts to suppress the alternative media, which bring to the fore issues ignored by the mainstream media, are objectionable.
He also asked the Union government to seriously consider the criticism from various quarters that the Delhi Police action against NewsClick was a part of such efforts.
“Suppressing dissenting voices is a fascist method,” he added.
(With PTI inputs)