NewsClick on Wednesday said that the government has not been able to substantiate any charges against the digital news organisation since 2021, a day after its editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha and human resources head Amit Chakravarty were arrested in a case filed under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
On Tuesday, the Special Cell of Delhi Police raided several journalists associated with NewsClick and later sealed the organisation’s office following allegations that the website received money to spread Chinese propaganda.
In a statement released on Wednesday after Purkayastha and Chakravarty were sent to seven days of police custody, NewsClick said the organisation has not yet been given a copy of the first information report or “informed about the exact particulars of the offences with which we have been charged”.
“Electronic devices were seized from the NewsClick premises and homes of employees, without any adherence to due process such as the provision of seizure memos, hash values of the seized data, or even copies of the data,” the statement said.
NewsClick said the case filed under the anti-terror law shows the government’s intent to treat criticism as sedition or “anti-national” propaganda.
“Yet, a government that has not been able to substantiate any charges against NewsClick despite being in possession of all its information, documentation and communications, needed a motivated and bogus article published in The New York Times to invoke the draconian UAPA and attempt to shut down and stifle independent and fearless voices that portray the story of the real India – of peasants, of labourers, of farmers, and other oft-ignored sections of society,” the statement read.
On August 5, The New York Times published a report claiming that NewsClick had received funds from a network centred around American millionaire Neville Roy Singham to push pro-China propaganda around the world.
At the time, Purkayastha, however, told Scroll that the allegations about the organisation functioning as a mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China were false.
In its statement on Wednesday, NewsClick again asserted that it does not take directions from Singham regarding the content published on its website.
“All funding received by NewsClick has been through the appropriate banking channels and have been reported to the relevant authorities as required by law, as substantiated by the Reserve Bank of India in proceedings before the High Court of Delhi,” it added.
NewsClick said that the Delhi Police’s Special Cell, during the raids, did not refer to any content that they consider to be Chinese propaganda.
“Indeed, the line of questioning adopted by the Special Cell of the Delhi Policy – regarding reportage on the Delhi riots, the farmers protests etc., all demonstrate the motivated and malicious intent behind the present proceedings,” the news website said.
NewsClick has been in the central agencies’ radar for a while now. In February 2021, the Enforcement Directorate had raided the organisation in a case of alleged unlawful foreign funding.
The statement on Wednesday noted that the Enforcement Directorate has not yet filed a complaint, accusing NewsClick of money-laundering.
“The Economic Offences Wing of Delhi Police has not been able to file a chargesheet against NewsClick for offences under the Indian Penal Code,” the statement added. “The Income Tax Department has not been able to defend its actions before the courts of law...Various directors and other related persons have spent countless hours on several occasions being interrogated by these government agencies.”
Besides Purkayastha and Chakravarty, journalists Abhisar Sharma, Aunindyo Chakravarty and Bhasha Singh and satirist Sanjay Rajaura were among those raided. The ambit of the police action extended not just to the editorial management, but also to staffers across designations as well as contributors.
Sharma said in a video on Wednesday that the police repeatedly questioned him about his work on the 2020 Delhi riots and the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh in 2019 and 2020, among other events.
Opposition parties and news associations have criticised the police action, saying that the Bharatiya Janata Party government is targeting journalists who speak truth to power and not those who spread hatred.
However, Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur insisted that investigating agencies are independent and work in accordance with the law.