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NewsClick office sealed, its founder Prabir arrested; opposition parties, other organizations call it ‘attack on media’

– Anwarulhaq Baig

New Delhi, Oct. 03, 2023: The Delhi Police on Tuesday sealed the office of NewsClick.in after conducting raids at about 30 locations, including the residences of various journalists associated with the news portal in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) in connection with a foreign funding case, registered under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

So far the news portal’s founder and Editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha and HR head Amit Chakravarty have been arrested under anti-terror law, UAPA. According to media reports, earlier on Tuesday, the residences of Prabir Purkayastha, journalists Abhisar Sharma, Aunindyo Chakravarty, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Bhasha Singh, Bappa Sinha, and Urmilesh were raided following allegations that it received money for pro-China propaganda. Some of them were also detained, and the police seized laptops and phones as per reports.  Earlier, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had registered a case against NewsClick, alleging violation of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) while receiving foreign funding.

This triggered protests and condemnation from the opposition and some media organizations, terming it as a crackdown on freedom of the press.

While issuing a statement against the multiple raids on a number of journalists on its X, the Press Club of India wrote that a spontaneous protest meeting was held at the PCI office and resolved to continue the protest by several journalists’ bodies to defend media freedom.

Expressing deep concern on it, the Editors Guild of India (EGI) expressed concern and said the raids were yet another attempt to muzzle the media.

“While we recognize that the law must take its course if actual offences are involved, the due process has to be followed. 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,” it added.

Describing it as an undeclared emergency, Senior Supreme Court advocate and activist Prashant Bhushan on X questioned how they could conduct raids on independent journalists based on an absurd FIR under UAPA against NewsClick.

Strongly opposing Delhi Police action against NewsClick, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury described it as a severe violation of press freedom and freedom of expression, which he said are fundamental rights in the country. According to reports, the resident of Yechury was also raided in search of some NewsClick crews there.

Amnesty International India tweeted that ‘concerning reports’ were emerging of raids at the residences of journalists and activists associated with NewsClick and use of the draconian anti-terror law, UAPA against many of them. The human rights body further writes, “The media plays a crucial role in reporting human rights abuses in the country. Yet time and again, UAPA, India’s principal counter-terrorism law, has been abused to target journalists and human rights defenders who criticise government policies.”

Various other journalist bodies including the National Alliance of Journalists, the Delhi Union of Journalists, and the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (Delhi Unit) have also condemned the police raids.

Calling it the BJP-led Union government government’s fresh attack on the media, the newly formed the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), alliance of the opposition parties, alleged that the Centre over the past nine years, deliberately persecuted and suppressed media organisations that speak truth to power.

In a statement, the opposition alliance said, “In the last nine years, the BJP government has deliberately persecuted and suppressed the media by deploying investigative agencies to suppress the British Broadcasting Corporation, Newslaundry, Dainik Bhaskar, Bharat Samachar, the Kashmir Walla, The Wire etc., and most recently the journalists of NewsClick. The BJP government has also tried to convert the media into a mouthpiece for its partisan and ideological interests by facilitating the takeover of media organisations by crony capitalists.”

Both the government and its ideologically aligned organisations have resorted to reprisals against individual journalists who spoke truth to power.

Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra said that the action showed ‘New India takes the press seriously’.

Meanwhile, Union Minister for Information & Broadcasting said, “I don’t need to justify… If anyone has committed anything wrong, search agencies are free to carry out investigations against them under set guidelines…”

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