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regular-article-logo Thursday, 22 February 2024

Terror whip on media house: NewsClick boss Prabir Purkayastha arrested, 46 quizzed

Sources in the Delhi poli­ce, who report to the Union home ministry, said this was the first time a media outlet had been booked under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act

Imran Ahmed Siddiqui, Our Web Desk New Delhi Published 04.10.23, 04:32 AM
Delhi police take senior journalists Pranjoy Guha Thakurta (extreme left) and Urmilesh (extreme right) to the Lodhi Road Special Cell office in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Delhi police take senior journalists Pranjoy Guha Thakurta (extreme left) and Urmilesh (extreme right) to the Lodhi Road Special Cell office in New Delhi on Tuesday. Sourced by The Telegraph

  • Two people, including NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha, arrested in connection with funding case sent to 7-day police custody: reports PTI

Delhi police’s special cell on Tuesday raided the online news portal NewsClick and several associated journalists, and arrested editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha, in a terror case alleging the portal received Chinese funds and ran an “anti-India agenda”.

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The force, which raided over 30 premises in Delhi, also searched the Mumbai home of social activist Teesta Setalvad — director of the think tank Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, which has contributed articles to NewsClick — and the official residence of CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury in Delhi, where an employee of the portal apparently stays.

Sources in the Delhi poli­ce, who report to the Union home ministry, said this was the first time a media outlet had been booked under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. NewsClick had in 2021 been raided by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the income-tax authorities.

Police spokesperson Suman Nalwa said that Purkayastha — a septuagenarian who was jailed during the Emergency — and NewsClick HR head Amit Chakraborty had been arrested.

“A total of 37 male suspects have been questioned at (sic) premises, 09 female suspects have been questioned at their respective places of stay and digital devices, documents etc. have been seized/ collected for examination,” Nalwa wrote on a police-media WhatsApp group at 8.22pm. “The proceedings are still going on.”

A police officer said: “The case was registered in August under the UAPA and other sections of the IPC, including Section 153A (promoting enmity between two groups) and 120B (criminal conspiracy).”

Sources said the raids began in the morning on the premises of Purkayastha, NewsClick founder and editor-in-chief, and journalists Aunindyo Chakraborty, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Bhasha Singh, Bappa Sinha, Urmilesh and Abhisar Sharma.

Several journalists — including Urmilesh and Sharma — were taken to the Lodhi Road special cell office for questioning. Sources said the police had put to them 25 questions on subjects including their foreign travel, the Shaheen Bagh anti-CAA protest of 2019-20 and the farmers’ agitation of 2020-21.

None of those allowed to leave after questioning were given back their laptops, phones or other devices that had been seized during the raids, sources said.

In August this year, a New York Times investigation had alleged that NewsClick was among organisations funded by a network tied to US millionaire Neville Roy Singham that pushes Chinese propaganda.

Purkayastha had responded, saying: “These are not new allegations. They have been made in the past. We will respond to them in the appropriate forum, i.e., the court, as the matter is sub-judice.”

The homes of past and present NewsClick journalists, contributors and employees were raided. So were cultural activist Sohail Hashmi and stand-up comic Sanjay Rajoura.

Union I&B minister Anurag Thakur told reporters in Bhubaneswar that the country’s probe agencies were independent and did their jobs by following rules.

“I don’t need to justify the raids. If someone has done something wrong, probe agencies work on it,” Thakur said.

Sources in the special cell said the raids were based on information from the ED, which is probing NewsClick for alleged rule violations in foreign funding and its use. Delhi High Court has given the NewsClick promoters protection from arrest in the case. The income-tax department had searched the portal’s premises in 2021 for alleged tax evasion.

Purkayastha had then said the probes and allegations represented attempts to stifle independent journalism.

Before he was detained, Abhisar Sharma wrote on X at 8.05am: “Delhi police landed at my home. Taking away my laptop and phone.”

Another raided journalist, Bhasha Singh, wrote at 8.41am: “Finally last tweet from this phone. Delhi police seizure (sic) my phone.”

Sohail’s sister and social activist Shabnam Hashmi posted on X: “Today, early morning at 6 am, Delhi Police’s special cell raided Sohail Hashmi’s residence. 6 people barged into the house and the bedroom.”

She alleged that the team questioned Sohail for two hours and seized his computer, phone, hard disc and flash drives.

“The stifling of democratic voices of journalists, intellectuals, artists and common civilians goes unabated under this government,” Shabnam wrote on X.

“In the name of legal proceedings what the common people face today is sheer intimidation, harassment and fear by the Indian state. We will not be silenced by such intimidating tactics by the government to stop citizens exercising their constitutional rights.”

Standing outside the special cell office, Gaurav Yadav, lawyer for Urmilesh, said: “We have been here since 10am and have been trying to meet our clients. However, we have not been able to meet them. We have neither been provided with any documents, nor did we get the copy of the FIR.”

The Press Club of India said on X that it was deeply concerned.

“We are monitoring the developments and will be releasing a detailed statement. The PCI stands in solidarity with the journalists and demands the government to come out with details,” it said.

Cartoonist Irfan K wrote on X that his home in Delhi was raided too and his devices were seized.

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