By Niha Masih, Anant Gupta and Gerry Shih
Prabir Purkayastha, founder and editor in chief of NewsClick, is taken away by the Delhi police's “special cell” in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Dinesh Joshi/AP)
Citing a draconian anti-terrorism legal provision, Indian police on Tuesday raided the homes and seized the phones and laptops of 46 journalists and contributors associated with NewsClick, a left-leaning news outlet critical of the Indian government, amid an intensifying crackdown on media under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
For years, the Modi government has accused NewsClick of financial impropriety, but it sharply escalated its scrutiny of the organization in August by alleging that it had received funding from China, a geopolitical rival. The New Delhi police said in a statement that its “special cell” carried out the search, seizure and detentions of 46 people in a case filed under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, a controversial anti-terrorism law. Two people, NewsClick’s founder and its human resources chief, were formally arrested.
The police seizures and raids, which unfolded simultaneously at more than 30 locations across India early Tuesday, rattled Indian media and drew criticism from the political opposition and professional journalist organizations.
New Delhi police did not immediately release details about their case, but many Indian news outlets, citing unnamed government sources, pointed to an August report by the New York Times alleging that NewsClick was on a list of news organizations that have received money from a Shanghai-based American businessman who supports the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda efforts.
NewsClick has consistently denied charges of financial misconduct and of promoting Chinese propaganda. Its defenders have criticized the persistent government scrutiny it has faced as motivated, at least partly, by a desire to squash a critical voice. Investigators not only interrogated NewsClick journalists Tuesday but also cast a broader net, targeting a long list of the publication’s former employees, freelance contributors and even friends of staff members.
“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 and critical voices,” the Editors Guild of India said in a statement. The Press Club of India asked the government to release more information about why the organization was targeted.
Founded in 2009, the scrappy news organization highlights stories of social injustices and discontent against the government. Video commentaries broadcast on YouTube and other social media platforms in English and Hindi make up much of its content.
Security officers carry boxes of material confiscated after a raid Tuesday at the office of NewsClick in New Delhi. (Dinesh Joshi/AP)
Tuesday’s raids are only the latest action against journalists in India, where press freedom has shrunk dramatically. This year, the country was ranked 161 out of 180 places in the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.
Independent media outlets in India battle censorship and harassment, and face arrests and economic pressures in doing their work. Indian authorities have increasingly alleged financial impropriety to carry out raids against media outlets critical of the government. International news organizations have been swept up as well.
In February, authorities raided and seized phones of BBC journalists over alleged tax evasion weeks after the organization aired a documentary critical of Modi’s handling of 2002 riots in his home state of Gujarat. The country’s leading Hindi-language newspaper, Dainik Bhaskar, was raided by tax authorities in 2021 in the wake of a critical series of reports challenging the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, highlighting dead bodies floating in the river Ganges.
Those detained for questioning Tuesday included several prominent Indian journalists. Prabir Purkayastha, the editor in chief of NewsClick, was taken away by police officials from his office and formally arrested.
Some described the seizure of their electronic devices.
“Delhi police landed at my home. Taking away my laptop and Phone …” another well-known journalist who has hosted video shows on NewsClick, Abhisar Sharma, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
“Finally [the] last tweet from this phone. Delhi police [has seized] my phone,” Bhasha Singh, another reporter who has written for NewsClick, said in a tweet.
Others swept up in the crackdown include satirist Sanjay Rajoura. The police reached Rajoura’s home between 6:30 and 7 a.m. and took him away for interrogation soon after, his lawyer Ilin Saraswat told The Washington Post.
Rajoura’s iPhone, laptop, several DVDs and some documents were seized by the police, Saraswat said, adding that he was being questioned over his previous work for NewsClick. Rajoura last worked for NewsClick nearly two years ago, according to his lawyer.
Historian Sohail Hashmi, who has not written or contributed to the outlet, was among those whose homes were raided. Hashmi, who is in his 70s, said he had recently appeared as a guest on two NewsClick programs and is friends with senior journalists at the outlet.
“The idea is to terrorize independent press and attack diverse voices which define democracy,” he said, adding that the police had also seized his electronic devices. He was reached on a family member’s phone.
NewsClick has previously faced raids from authorities over alleged financial impropriety, and it has been frequently lambasted by officials in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party who say its steady drumbeat of government criticism reflected its “anti-India” agenda.
In August, days after the New York Times published an investigation that named NewsClick as among the recipients of funding from Neville Roy Singham, an American tech baron and a Shanghai-based Chinese Communist Party supporter, the Delhi police filed a case against NewsClick under the anti-terror law, the Indian Express reported.
BJP leaders, who often attack the Times for its critical coverage of India, praised the report in Parliament and said it confirmed their long-standing suspicions about NewsClick’s loyalties.
At the time, NewsClick issued a statement denying it was “a mouth-piece of the Communist Party of China” and said it always adhered to Indian law.
Indian opposition parties on Tuesday condemned the raids, calling the moves an attempt to distract from several national controversies facing the ruling BJP.
The Modi government has attempted to “convert the media into a mouthpiece for its partisan and ideological interests” and acted against those who speak truth to power, said INDIA, a coalition of opposition parties.
Late Tuesday, as NewsClick’s editor fielded police questions, its homepage featured a smattering of hot-button national issues: details of a state caste census resisted by the central government; a piece about the government’s attempt to appropriate the nonviolent legacy of Mohandas K. Gandhi; and opposition allegations about the opaque nature of the BJP’s own political funding.
By Niha Masih
Niha Masih is a reporter at The Washington Post's Seoul hub, where she covers breaking news in the United States and across the world. Previously, she was The Post's correspondent in India, where she covered the rise of majoritarian nationalism, conflict in Kashmir, the covid crisis and digital surveillance of citizens. Twitter
By Anant Gupta
Anant Gupta is a researcher with the India bureau of the Washington Post. He is based in New Delhi. Twitter
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