NewsClick founder, HR head sent to seven-day custody
Additional sessions judge Hardeep Kaur also sought a response from the Delhi Police on pleas for a copy of the first information reports filed against the two men
A Delhi court on Wednesday sent the founder and the human resource department head of online portal NewsClick to police custody for seven days as journalists came together in the Capital to protest their arrest and the website denied charges levelled under India’s anti-terror law.
The developments came a day after sweeping raids across five cities resulted in the arrests of NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha and HR head Amit Chakravarty in connection with a case registered by the Delhi Police special cell under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Additional sessions judge Hardeep Kaur also sought a response from the Delhi Police on pleas for a copy of the first information reports filed against the two men.
The court allowed Purkayastha’s lawyer to meet him daily for an hour and agreed to provide a copy of the remand order and remand application to the counsels for both. The court also issued notice to the Delhi Police on an application seeking to provide medication to Chakravarty The matter will now be heard on Thursday.
On Tuesday, at least 400 police officials raided around 30 locations across Delhi, Noida, Gurugram, Mumbai and Ghaziabad, questioning 46 people, including journalists, freelancers, writers and satirists, for eight hours. This came days after an investigation published in The New York Times alleged that the portal was part of a global network that received money for pushing Chinese propaganda.
Journalists from various media organisations and activists came together at the Press Club of India (PCI) in Delhi on Wednesday, and said the raids and arrests will have a chilling effect on free speech. Members of 15 media bodies also wrote a letter to Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, saying that press freedom was under threat due to police overreach over “vague assertions”
The letter also made three demands --- norms to discourage the seizing of phones and electronic devices of journalists “on a whim”, guidelines for the interrogation of journalists, and ensuring the accountability of state agencies and officers.
In the letter, the bodies alleged that “...ad hoc, sweeping seizures and interrogations surely cannot be considered acceptable in any democratic country”.
NewsClick issued a statement refuting the charges against it, saying it never published any news or information at the behest of any Chinese entity or authority. It also denied taking any directions from Singham.
“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,” the statement said.
The website also added that the special cell did not refer to a “single article or video that they consider to be Chinese propaganda”.
“Indeed, the line of questioning adopted by the special cell of the Delhi Police – regarding reportage on the Delhi riots, the farmers protests etc -- all demonstrate the motivated and malicious intent behind the present proceedings. We have full faith in the courts and the judicial process,” the statement added.
On August 17, Delhi Police’s special cell registered a case under section 153A (promoting enmity) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code and sections 16 (terrorist act),17 (raising funds for terrorist act), 18 (conspiracy), and 22C (offences by companies, societies or trusts) of UAPA.
Those who were questioned and whose devices were seized included Purkayastha, journalists Abhisar Sharma, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Bhasha Singh, Aditi Nigam, Urmilesh, Subodh Verma, D Raghunandan, Githa Hariharan, and historian Sohail Hashmi. Most of them were either consultants with the portal or its contributors.
Founded in 2009, NewsClick first ran into trouble in 2021, when the Enforcement Directorate registered a case based on an FIR registered by Delhi Police’s Economic Offence Wing in 2020. Allegations in the FIR included overvaluing of shares, diverting funds, and violation of FDI regulations. In 2021, ED searched the premises of NewsClick and Purkayastha. A Delhi Police officer said irregularities were found in the cashbook of the website. “Within months of incorporation, NewsClick received crores of funds for services exported, out of which a payment of ₹1.55 crore was made to an electrician. Also, Puryakastha and Gautam Navlakha, an accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, have incorporated a company together with an American defence supplier company. We have found some e-mails exchanged between Puryakastha and Neville Roy Singham, which were aimed to tarnish India’s image at the international level,” the officer added.
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