A day after income tax officials visited the offices of news websites Newslaundry and Newsclick, both organisations on Saturday said the allegations against them are unfounded and that they had nothing to hide.
The Income Tax officials had claimed that they were conducting a “survey” aimed at verifying tax payment details and remittances made by the organisations.
Newslaundry’s co-founder Abhinandan Sekhri said that Income Tax department officials told him to “comply without seeking legal advice” during their visit to the company’s office in Delhi.
During their visit, the officials had cloned electronic devices and asked for documents that belonged to the news organisation.
On Saturday, Sekhri said that the officials looked through all the electronic devices in Newslaundry’s office.
“My personal mobile phone, laptop, and a couple of office machines were taken control of and all the data on them downloaded by the IT team,” the news website’s co-founder said in a statement. “In my understanding this (taking all data from my laptop and mobile phone) violated my fundamental right to privacy.”
Sekhri said that the officials did not provide him with any information on the data that they had copied.
The Newslaundry co-founder also noted that this was the second visit by officials of the Income Tax department to the organisation’s office.
Sekhri said that his news organisation had cooperated with the authorities on all the visits and will continue to do so.
“We have nothing to hide and have done everything by the book and are not in any breach or violation of any law,” he said. “We conduct our business honestly and with integrity.”
Sekhri said that his organisation will continue to practice journalism in the interest of the public.
“We are proud of the model we chose and championed,” he added.
Newsclick’s Editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha said the income tax officials recorded his statement, impounded his phone and took away documents from the premises.
Purkayastha said that about 30 employees and support staff of the organisation were present in the office at the time. “Their phones were temporarily seized, and they were not allowed to use their computers and work,” he said.
He also noted that this was not the first time that the office was “targeted” by government agencies. He referred to the Enforcement Directorate’s raids at NewsClick’s office in February in connection with an alleged money laundering case pertaining to foreign funding.
“The raid yesterday [Friday] appears to relate to the same false and unfounded allegations being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate and the Economic Offences Wing, Delhi Police,” Purkayastha said.
He added: “These investigations by various agencies, and these selective allegations, are attempts to stifle the independent journalism of media organisations – including Newsclick.”
The Newsclick editor-in-chief said that the organisation has co-operated with the investigations by the Enforcement Directorate and Economic Offences Wing, and provided to them the documents they asked for from time to time.
On June 30, the Income Tax department officials had visited the offices of Newslaundry and NewsClick and served notices to them, reported The Indian Express.
At the Newsclick office, the officials had also taken the statements of Purkayastha and Pranjal, one of the editors.
The Delhi Police had alleged that Purkayastha received Rs 9.59 crore in Foreign Direct Investment from a firm named Worldwide Media Holdings in the United States in the financial year 2018-’19.
They had also claimed that PPK NewsClick Studio Private Limited, which owns Newsclick, overvalued its shares to escape the 26% limit on Foreign Direct Investment for news websites.
In July, the Delhi High Court had granted interim protection from coercive action against Purkayastha and PPK NewsClick Studio Private Limited till September 2.