Early morning raids were conducted on 3 October on journalists and contributors to the news portal Newsclick in connection with an Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) case, drawing sharp reactions from journalists’ bodies and political parties.
The names included journalists Abhisar Sharma, Bhasha Singh, Urmilesh, Newsclick editor Prabir Purkayastha, writer Githa Hariharan, commentator Aunindyo Chakravarty, activist and historian Sohail Hashmi, and satirist Sanjay Rajaura, media reports said.
Delhi Police are said to have seized the laptops, phones, and other devices of the journalists, many of whom have tweeted about the raids about whom there is no clear response apart from Union I&B Minister Anurag Thakur comment, who said that “the probe agencies are independent and they are doing their jobs by following rules.”
“I don’t need to justify the raids. If someone has done something wrong, the probe agencies do their job. It’s nowhere written that probe agencies can’t take action if money has come to you from wrong sources or something objectionable has been done,” media reports quoted Thakur as saying in Bhubaneswar.
The Press Club of India expressed concern over the raids, saying it “stood in solidarity with the journalists and asked the government to come out with details”. The PCI was expected to come out with a detailed statement.
The homes of activist Teesta Setalvad and veteran journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta were also raided, The Wire reported.
The Wire confirmed that police visited the houses of Newsclick employees across roles and levels and seized their devices. Employees were asked whether they had reported on events like the farmers’ protest and the Covid pandemic in India, The Wire reported.
The raids come in the backdrop of a report in The New York Times, which alleged that NewsClick is funded by a network tied to US millionaire Neville Roy Singham for pushing Chinese propaganda, The Indian Express reported.
The Wire had also reported how BJP MP Nishikant Dubey had cited the report in the Lok Sabha to claim that Congress leaders and NewsClick had received funds from China to create an “anti-India” atmosphere.
The Enforcement Directorate had earlier registered a case against the news portal and investigated its funding. The central agency had also attached some assets linked to the news portal. The ED has alleged that the news portal received a sum of nearly ₹ 38 crore from entities linked to China, and how this amount was used is under the scanner, NDTV reported.
The Delhi Police also sent to the official residence of CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury as part of the ongoing action against entities and journalists linked to NewsClick. Yechury said that the raid was not targeted at the CPI-M, and that the police were looking for the son of a party office staff who works at NewsClick as a graphics artist.
“Police came to my residence because one of my companions who lives with me there, his son, works for NewsClick. The police came to question him. They took his laptop and phone. What are they investigating? Nobody knows. If this is an attempt to try and muzzle the media, the country must know the reason behind this,” the Hindustan Times quoted Yechury as saying.
I.N.D.I.A reacts sharply
The raid has drawn severe criticism from political parties. The Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (I.N.D.I.A.) parties condemned what they termed was the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) government’s fresh attack on the media, adding they steadfastly stand with the media and for the constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and expression.
“In the last nine years, the BJP government has deliberately persecuted and suppressed the media by deploying investigative agencies to suppress the British Broadcasting Corporation, Newslaundry, Dainik Bhaskar, Bharat Samachar, the Kashmir Walla, the Wire etc., and most recently the journalists of NewsClick. The BJP government has also tried to convert the media into a mouthpiece for its partisan and ideological interests by facilitating the takeover of media organizations by crony capitalists. Both the government and its ideologically aligned organizations have resorted to reprisals against individual journalists who spoke truth to power,” the alliance said in a statement.
“Furthermore, the BJP government has also spearheaded regressive policies like the Information Technology Rules 2021 that constrict the media from reporting objectively. In doing so, the BJP is not only hiding its sins of omissions and commission from the people of India. It is also compromising India’s global standing as a mature democracy.”
“The BJP government’s coercive actions are invariably directed against only those media organizations and journalists that speak truth to power. Ironically, the BJP government is paralyzed when it comes to taking action against those journalists inciting hatred and divisiveness in the nation. In the national interest, it would behoove the BJP Government to focus on genuine issues of concern to the nation and the people, and stop attacking the media to distract attention from its failures,” the alliance said in a statement.