The Delhi Police’s Special Cell on Tuesday conducted raids at the homes of journalists and employees associated with Delhi-based news portal NewsClick. The search was conducted to find evidence of economic offences in connection to its alleged Chinese links and at least two journalists have been detained.
The searches were conducted at 30 locations across the national capital, including the NewsClick office, in a case filed under the strict Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in August, days after an explosive NYT report. Raids started around 6 am today at the residences of senior journalists including NewsClick founder and editor Prabir Purkayastha, along with Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Abhisar Sharma, Urmilesh, Aunindyo Chakraborty, Bhasha Singh, satirist Sanjay Rajaura, and historian and activist Sohail Hashmi. Raids were also reportedly conducted at journalist and activist Teesta Setalvad’s home.
Started in 2009, NewsClick is an independent media house which is known to report critically of the government. The raids are being seen as an attack on press freedom. The Press Club of India has said it is deeply concerned about raids on the houses of journalists and writers associated with NewsClick.
The platform, along with American billionaire businessman Neville Roy Singham, have been making headlines since 2021 when the Enforcement Directorate named Singham in a money laundering case. The Centre alleged that they were promoting Chinese propaganda through the platform, allegations that the organisation has denied. Singham, the founder of 'ThoughtWorks', an IT consulting company, is currently based in Shanghai. He allegedly financed NewsClick, triggering the controversy.
NewsClick was first probed by the Enforcement Directorate in 2021 when the agency found a trove of email exchanges involving Singham and senior CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat during its raid. NewsClick was regularly reporting on farmers’ protest at the time.
They said that Singham was the source of the questionable funding of Rs 38 crore given to an Indian news site called People's Dispatch between 2018 and 2021. The funds were allegedly then distributed to journalists including Gautam Navlakha and associates of Teesta Setalvad.
ED had also said that Rs 9.59 crore was received in Foreign Direct Investments (FDI). The probe agency had termed it an intricate scheme designed by Prabir, together with Neville Roy Singham, who they said was allegedly affiliated to the Communist Party of China (CPC).
NewsClick has been under the scanner of probe agencies since then.
The NYT Report
In August this year, the New York Times reported that corporate filings reveal how Singham’s network, which financed the news site, sprinkled its coverage with Chinese government talking points to the extent of reportedly showing how “China’s history continues to inspire the working classes”.
“These groups operate in coordination. They have cross-posted articles and shared one another’s content on social media hundreds of times. Many share staff members and office space. They organize events together and interview one another’s representatives without disclosing their ties,” it said
The report triggered a renewed controversy around NewsClick with the Centre with Union minister Anurag Thakur claiming that the money trail revealed an "anti-India agenda". He also alleged Congress’s link to it saying the political party, NewsClick and China are part of an “umbilical cord”.
NewsClick had dismissed the allegations, stating that they lack factual basis and are currently sub judice. The company had emphasised its respect for the legal process and refrained from engaging in a "media trial." The Delhi High Court had sought Puryakastha's stand on a plea by the Delhi Police seeking to remove protection from arrest in the UAPA case.
Subsequently, four media bodies issued a joint statement expressing deep concern over a “witch-hunt” against the news web portal and its employees. “The portal features contributions from individuals of integrity and substance. Articles that offer critical yet appreciative perspectives on the policies of other countries should not be mistaken for advocacy on their behalf, nor should they be labelled as anti-national or seditious,” they had said.
Similar raids have been conducted at BBC’s Delhi and Mumbai offices after it released a two-part documentary in the UK alleging PM Modi’s role in 2002 Godhra riots. Dainik Bhasar’s office was raided in 2021 following its coverage of the government’s handling of Covid-19 pandemic.