The Delhi Police on Tuesday said its special cell arrested two persons, including NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha and human resources head Amit Chakravarty, under the anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA.
Early in the morning, the police raided at least 30 locations connected with the portal and the homes of journalists and office staff linked to it.
In a statement, the police said it questioned 46 “suspects, including nine women at their respective residences and 37 men at the Special Cell office”. “The proceedings (questioning) are still ongoing, and further investigation is in progress,” the police said, adding that documents, laptops, and mobile phones were seized from them.
The police are probing allegations that the news portal had received foreign funds, mainly from China, which the Enforcement Directorate (ED) is also looking into. While the arrests were made public a little after 8 pm, the police sealed NewsClick’s office in south Delhi early in the evening. The police, sources claimed, had filed a case under five sections of the UAPA on 17 August, along with Indian Penal Code sections 153A and 120B.
Opposition parties and journalists’ associations criticised the police action on NewsClick as an assault on the media.
In a post, the Bharatiya Janata Party, from its official social media handle on X (formerly Twitter), posted a Venn diagram alleging “the China connection” between the Congress and NewsClick. Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera accused the government of using the raids on journalists to “distract” from the Bihar caste survey findings. Union Minister Anurag Thakur said in Bhubaneswar: “If the agencies are taking action, then certainly they would have done so on the basis of evidence available.”
The Delhi Police’s Economic Offences Wing launched a probe into NewsClick’s funding in August 2020. The Income-Tax Departments and the ED teams visited NewsClick’s office on two separate occasions in 2021. In August 2023, The New York Times claimed NewsClick as one of the organisations funded by an American millionaire with links to China.
The searches took place in the Delhi-NCR region, at the residence of activist Teesta Setalvad in Mumbai and the official residence of Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury as a NewsClick graphic designer, son of an office staff of the CPI (M), currently lives there. Most raids started at 6 am and lasted for a few hours. While women were questioned at their homes and their laptops and phones seized, men were taken to the Lodhi Road Special Cell office.
Apart from Purkayastha and Chakravarty, journalists Urmilesh, Abhisar Sharma and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta were among those questioned but later permitted to leave. Sources said police posed over two dozen questions relating to their foreign travel, whether they covered protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in Shaheen Bagh, and the farmers’ protests against the three central farm laws or if they were part of the support groups formed at the time.
Guha Thakurta said a team of nine police personnel came to his home in Gurugram at 6.30 pm, and asked him several questions, after which he voluntarily travelled with them to the special cell office, where police asked the same questions again. He said the questions included whether he was an employee of NewsClick, to which the journalist said he was a consultant, and whether he covered the Delhi riots or farmers’ protests or if he used Signal. The senior journalist said he learnt, after reaching the Special Cell office, that an FIR has been lodged under the UAPA. “What has happened is in the public domain. Time will tell,” Guha Thakurta, who spent nearly 10 hours at the Special Cell office, said.
Journalists’ organisations, such as the Editors Guild of India, Press Club of India, and others, condemned the police raids as an assault on the media. The Editors Guild termed the raids as another attempt to muzzle the media. “While we recognise that the law must take its course if actual offences are involved, the due process has to be followed. The investigation of specific offences 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 critical voices,” it said. The Press Club of India said it stood in solidarity with the journalists. At a meeting at the Press Club, journalists said they would seek the Chief Justice of India’s intervention and had called for protest marches in several cities, including in Delhi, on Wednesday.
The Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) parties said in the last nine years, the BJP government had “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, and most recently the journalists of NewsClick.” The 26-party alliance said: “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 organisations by crony capitalists.”