Delhi news site editor arrested in new bid to intimidate independent Indian media
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the arrests of the editor and the administrative officer of an independent Indian news site and searches of 12 journalists’ homes in an investigation under an anti-terrorism law into alleged illegal Chinese funding. These disproportionate measures are designed to intimidate independent Indian media, RSF says.
Prabir Purkayastha, the editor of NewsClick, the independent news site he founded in 2009, and Amit Chakraborty, its administrative officer, were arrested on 3 October after police conducted early-morning raids on the website’s Delhi headquarters and the homes of 12 of its journalists and contributors, seizing laptops, digital storage devices and mobile phones. Purkayastha and Chakraborty have been detained.
“The measures taken are out of all proportion to the alleged offense. An alleged violation of the law on funding sources in no way justifies arbitrary searches of journalists’ homes and arrests. Furthermore, the seizure of several journalists’ computers and mobile phones poses a serious threat to the confidentiality of their sources. These dramatic raids, in which a huge number of police officers participated, have come at a time of widespread intimidation of independent media in India. We call on the authorities to release Prabir Purkayastha and Amit Chakraborty and to return the confiscated equipment
Aritry Das, one of the 12 journalists whose homes were searched, said in a post on X (the former Twitter): “Delhi Police barged into my home at 6 am. Took my laptop, phone, hard disks etc. Questioned about the reporting I have done.”
NewsClick is known for its reporting on political subjects, its coverage of protests and its criticism of the government.
It is feared that the confidentiality of their sources could be violated as a result of the arbitrary seizure of their equipment, which was all the more arbitrary because the investigation is supposedly about how the website is funded, not about its employees and contributors.
Some of the journalists were questioned for several hours by the special cell of Delhi police before being released. But Purkayastha and Chakraborty were arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The police have sealed NewsClick’s offices.
The New York Times reported on 5 August that NewsClick had received funding from Neville Roy Singham, a US millionaire who, according to the newspaper, cooperates with the Chinese government in spreading its propaganda.
Purkayastha denied the claim in a statement on 7 August. “We are an independent news organisation, and any allegations that we function as a mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China or other interests are false,” he said.
Yesterday’s raids and arrests were reportedly carried out as a result of a “First Information Report” registered on 17 August accusing NewsClick of being illegally funded by China.
Website targeted by the authorities
This is not the first time that NewsClick has been the target of searches. Officials from the Enforcement Directorate, a federal agency that combats economic crimes, swooped on its headquarters on 9 February 2023 and spent more than 36 hours there searching and seizing equipment in an investigation into spurious allegations of money laundering linked to foreign funding. The homes of four of its staff members were also searched.
Since Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, India has fallen 21 places in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index and is now ranked 161st out of 180 countries.