NewsClick Journalists Face UAPA Charges and Raids Amid Allegations of Foreign Funding

The Delhi Police conducted searches at the residences of several NewsClick journalists and may detain some of them after questioning. Additionally, the police are conducting searches at the media house's office premises following the registration of a new UAPA case. These actions were prompted by allegations of foreign funding, specifically from US millionaire Neville Roy Singham, with links to Chinese propaganda. NewsClick has denied these allegations, citing an attempt to stifle independent journalism.
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New Delhi- A special cell of the Delhi Police on Tuesday, conducted raids on approximately 100 locations connected to the online news portal NewsClick, including the residences of six journalists in Delhi, and the neighboring areas of Noida and Ghaziabad. These raids come following earlier actions by the Enforcement Directorate at the firm's locations. The Special Cell's operation is based on information provided by the central agency. The raids are reportedly linked to a case registered on August 17 under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and other sections of the Indian Penal Code.

The Enforcement Directorate is investigating the alleged infusion of "fraudulent" foreign funds totaling over ₹86 crore into the company operating the NewsClick portal. In August, the investigative agency had attached a flat associated with NewsClick's editor-in-chief, Prabir Purkayashta, located in New Delhi's Saket area. Additionally, Purkayastha's premises had been raided in September 2021. Notably, NewsClick had recently garnered attention due to allegations of receiving funds from US millionaire Neville Roy Singham for promoting pro-China propaganda in India.

These developments unfold in the wake of the Delhi Police Special Cell's recent registration of a fresh case under the UAPA against the media house.

According to various media reports, a team of multiple police personnel in plainclothes showed up unannounced at the residences of the journalists at 7:00 AM and questioned them for hours. Senior Journalist Urmilesh has been detained. His lawyer talked to ANI and said, "Urmilesh's wife informed me that he has been arrested by the Delhi Police. I have no other details as of now." India Today has reported that a list of names of the people who were to be raided was made, and they were divided into 3 (A, B, C) categories. The people included in category A will be detained.

Those whose residences have been searched are as follows: journalists Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Abhisar Sharma, Urmilesh, Aunindyo Chakraborty, and Bhasha Singh; activist Sohail Hashmi; and satirist Sanjay Rajaura. Phones and laptops have been seized from them. The sudden involvement of the Enforcement Directorate was based on a New York Times alleged exposé that claimed NewsClick is funded by Neville Roy Singham.

The American tech mogul supposedly funds outlets that promote Chinese propaganda. Singham has categorically denied all the charges levied against him by the American media house. Even though the central government does not see eye to eye with NYE, this particular article has provided them with the confidence to go further with a probe into NewsClick.

Government Responds: 'Sovereignty of India at Stake' in NewsClick Probe

On being asked about the raids, Union Minister Anurag Thakur told media persons, "I don't need to justify it... If anyone has committed anything wrong, search agencies are free to carry out investigations against them under set guidelines."

Thakur and union minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar had held a press conference in August to corroborate their claims. The ministers claimed that China, the Indian National Congress, and NewsClick are part of an 'umbilical cord.' ED had alleged that the agency has received ₹38 crore from different corporations based in China. People who have been receiving salaries or any other remuneration from the media agency are under scrutiny.

Pallavi Ghosh, Senior Editor at CNN News18, has quoted the government on her social media, saying, "It is about the sovereignty of India and not about freedom of speech. An investigation by The New York Times had also reported that the Indian news portal NewsClick is among organizations funded by a network tied to US millionaire Neville Roy Singham for pushing Chinese propaganda. Newsclick funding push by China is an assault on the sovereignty of India as it requires a probe and investigation. The manner of routing of funds and transfers clearly points out to electronic evidence. A large sum of money has been transferred electronically and has been routed further into the system. Payouts have been made to so-called journalists to spread Chinese propaganda. At this stage, it is important to secure the evidence and go to the root of the matter. Investigative agencies will have to look at every available record, including electronic records stored on devices, to prevent tampering of evidence."

Before their phones were seized, journalists Abhisar Sharma tweeted, "Delhi police landed at my home. Taking away my laptop and phone..." Bhasha Singh also informed her readers of what was taking place by posting on X (formerly Twitter), "Finally, the last tweet from this phone. Delhi police seized my phone." Both posts were uploaded before 9:00 AM, hinting at their devices being taken away by the police early in the morning. Many journalists and press committees have condemned the act and extended solidarity to NewsClick.

Raids Elicit Strong Political Backlash

CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury reacted to the raids at his residence and said, “Police came to my residence because one of my companions who lives with me there, his son works for NewsClick. 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."

Samajwadi Party chief, Akhilesh Yadav, commented on the recent raids, suggesting that they signify a "losing BJP."

In a post on X (formerly Twitter), Yadav pointed out that such raids on honest journalists are not a new occurrence, alleging that BJP rulers have a history of conducting such actions. He also raised questions about the substantial amounts of money being allocated to 'Mitra channels' every month under the pretext of government 'prachar-prasar' (advertisements) and urged for transparency in these allocations.

Leaders of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) expressed their criticism of the police action against NewsClick and journalists associated with the media outlet.RJD chief and former Bihar chief minister Lalu Yadav conveyed his disapproval, describing the act of suppressing the fourth pillar of democracy as cowardly. He went on to assert that the Modi government appears to be afraid of the truth. His statement was shared on X.

RJD Member of Parliament (MP) Manoj Jha went a step further, accusing Home Minister Amit Shah of orchestrating the police action. He alleged that those who refused to align themselves with the BJP's "Bhajan Mandali" (supporters' group) would face such treatment.

Congress leader Pawan Khera asserted that the recent raids on contributing journalists at Newsclick are a deliberate attempt at creating a "fresh distraction" from the "explosive findings of the caste census in Bihar" and the increasing demand for a similar census to be conducted nationwide.

In a post on X, Khera drew attention to what he perceives as a strategy employed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when faced with unexpected questions or challenges. He likened this strategy to going "out of syllabus" and suggested that the only counter Modi resorts to is "DISTRACTION."

Former Congress leader Kapil Sibal called the searches "precursor for times to come". "Early morning raids on journalists, satirists and activists in UAPA case. Objective perhaps : Silence them before 2024! Precursor for times to come!," he posted on X.

AAP chief national spokesperson Priyanka Kakkar has accused the Modi government of employing a deceptive strategy to appear tough on China. She alleges that this is done by arresting its own journalists instead of directly engaging with China.

In her statement to PTI, Kakkar categorizes journalists into two groups: those who have surrendered to Prime Minister Modi and are rewarded by him, and those who are actively working to expose the shortcomings of the Modi government. She criticizes Modi for what she perceives as a lack of courage, stating that he resorts to arresting journalists on baseless charges instead of addressing real issues.

Kakkar further alleges that despite China's incursions into Indian territory, the central government has failed to gather the courage to sever commercial ties with China.

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Press Clubs and Journalists Condemn Raids, Call for Media Freedom Defense

The Press Club of India posted on X saying, "The Press Club of India is deeply concerned about the multiple raids conducted on the houses of journalists and writers associated with NewsClick. 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."

The Mumbai Press Club has also released a statement that said, "The Mumbai Press Club expresses deep concern regarding the ongoing events in Delhi, where multiple journalists affiliated with NewsClick have been subjected to raids by the Delhi police, confiscating their phones and laptops from their residences."

Author and journalist Saba Naqvi, while asking for media freedom to be defended, posted, "This morning begins with very disturbing news about raids at the homes of journalists and contributors to the website #Newsclick. So far, the news suggests no FIR shown. Why should media personnel be treated in this manner in a democracy, and surely contributors and employees cannot be held responsible for the finances of any outlet?"

Anusha Ravi Sood, Executive Editor of The South First, sarcastically commented on India's Press Freedom ranking. She further asked the citizens, "What's next after seizing phones & laptops of journalists contributing to NewsClick? Raid homes, seize phones & laptops of people who read & shared articles? Or book more journalists who follow up?"

Denying all the allegations against the media agency, NewsClick's editor Prabir Purkayastha has said, "These investigations by various agencies and these selective allegations are attempts to stifle the independent journalism of media organizations, including NewsClick. The Constitution of India under Article 19(1)(a) guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression, a right central to our work."

Amnesty India took notice of the raids being carried out at multiple locations involving journalists and activists associated with the news outlet. The organization has called upon the government to uphold their rights to freedom of expression.

In a statement shared on X (formerly Twitter), Amnesty India emphasized the vital role played by the media in reporting on human rights violations within the country. It expressed concerns over the repeated misuse of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), India's primary counter-terrorism law, to target journalists and human rights defenders who criticize government policies.

Amnesty India urged the Government of India to cease the harassment and intimidation of journalists and to uphold their fundamental right to freedom of expression.

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