In the backdrop of the raids on news portal NewsClick and the arrest of its founder, journalist associations have sought Chief Justice DY Chandrachud’s intervention in cases where media personnel are facing action from the government.
In a joint letter, the media organizations wrote, “Today, a large section of journalists in India finds themselves working under the threat of reprisal. It is imperative that the judiciary confronts power with a fundamental truth that there is a Constitution to which we are all answerable.”
The organizations include Digipub News India Foundation, Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Club of India, Foundation for Media Professionals, Network of Women in Media, India, Chandigarh Press Club, National Alliance of Journalists, Delhi Union of Journalists, Kerala Union of Working Journalists, Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists, Free Speech Collective, Mumbai, Mumbai Press Club, Arunachal Pradesh Union of Working Journalists, Press Association, Guwahati Press Club, Indian Journalists Union (IJU), Kolkata Press Club and Working News Camermen’s Association.
The letter referred the the arrest of NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha and HR head Amit Chakravarty under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and the raids on about 46 journalists and other people. The police also seized several mobile phones, laptops and others.
“During your time at the Supreme Court, you have seen how on numerous occasions, the country’s investigating agencies have been misused and weaponized against the press,” the letter said. “Sedition and terrorism cases have been filed against editors and reporters, and multiple, sequential and/or frivolous FIRs have been used as an instrument of harassment against journalists.”
The letter said this wasn’t an attempt to “bypass or circumvent” procedure, but pointed out that the intimidation of the media “affects the democratic fabric of society”. They asked the courts to consider three points: the framing of norms to discourage the seizure of journalists’ devices; guidelines for seizures and the interrogation of journalists; and finding ways to ensure accountability of state agencies.
In a joint statement, the NAJ and DUJ said the government has been targeting NewsClick apparently after the coverage it gave on the issues of workers and farmers. “We believe that this is yet another attempt by the Centre to muzzle freedom of press,” it said.
The Editors Guild called the raids an attempt to muzzle the media. “While we recognize that the law must take its course if actual offenses are involved, the due process has to be followed. The investigation of specific offenses must not create a general atmosphere of intimidation under the shadow of draconian laws, or impinge on the freedom of expression and the raising of dissenting and critical voices,” it said.
The Special Cell of the Delhi Police had on Tuesday conducted raids at multiple locations. After more than 12 hours of questioning, Prabir Purkayastha and Amit Chakravarty were arrested. Those raided include 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.
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.