The raids, searches and seizures began when officials from the Enforcement Directorate, a federal agency that combats economic crimes, arrived at Newsclick’s headquarters in southern Delhi at 10 a.m. on 9 February. They spent more than 36 hours there and seized communications equipments.
At the same time, searches were carried out at the homes of several senior members of Newsclick’s staff, including editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha, editor Pranjal Pandey and human resources head Amit Chakravarty. Four days later, the searches are still continuing at the homes of Purkayastha and author Githa Hariharan, who have not been allowed to leave since they began.
The reasons given for the searches are vague, contradictory or non-existent. No explanation was given to Newsclick’s management, which had to settle for the statements that some Enforcement Directorate officials gave to the media. During the search of the website, one of these officials told Newslaundry that it was “just a routine check.” But others referred to “money laundering” suspicions linked to foreign funding and a complaint filed by the agency last month.
Smearing the website
Rejecting the accusations, Newsclick said in statement that “the selective leak of misleading facts is nothing but a malicious attempt to smear the image of Newsclick and discredit our journalism.” It added that it was cooperating fully with the authorities and had “nothing to hide.”
“This series of searches on the spurious pretext of money-laundering allegations is intolerable,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “They constitute a serious violation of press freedom and the confidentiality of journalists’ sources, which are guaranteed by Indian legislation, and they are preventing the site from operating in a normal manner. “We urge the authorities to drop the arbitrary proceedings that the Enforcement Directorate initiated against Newsclick and we call on the government stop using federal agencies as tools for harassing critical media.”
Newsclick had been praised for its coverage of the big protests that farmers have been staging in the New Delhi suburbs for months. The authorities have repeatedly obstructed journalists covering these protests, as RSF reported last week.
Three days ago, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology ordered Twitter to block more than 1,100 accounts linked to the farmers’ protests, many of them belonging to reporters and media outlets such as The Caravan. Twitter refused to comply.
India is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.