Delhi Police arrests NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha in foreign funding case

Prabir Purkayastha
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of NewsClick Prabir Purkayastha is brought to Delhi Police Special Cell in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023. Photo: AP/Dinesh Joshi

New Delhi: Two persons including NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha were arrested by the Delhi police on Tuesday in connection with a probe into the portal's foreign funding, officials said.

This comes after the Delhi Police searched 30 locations connected with the online news portal and its journalists in a case filed under the anti-terror law UAPA following allegations that it received money for pro-China propaganda. The police on Tuesday sealed its Delhi office.

Boxes of material confiscated after a raid from the office of NewsClick being brought to Special Cell office in New Delhi, Tuesday, October 3, 2023. Photo: PTI

Among those questioned were journalists Urmilesh, Aunindyo Chakravarty, Abhisar Sharma, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta as well as historian Sohail Hashmi. Police posed a list of 25 questions relating to various issues, including their foreign travels, protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in Shaheen Bagh as well as the farmers' agitation, sources said.

Those being questioned have been divided into three categories, A, B and C, sources said.
Addressing a gathering in Bhubaneswar, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur said probe agencies in the country are independent and work in accordance with law.
"... If someone has done something wrong, probe agencies work on it... Nowhere is it written that if you have got money through illegal manner or done something objectionable, then probe agencies cannot investigate that," Thakur said.

The Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Samajwadi Party as well as the Press Club of India reacted to the searches, which began early morning, and criticised the government for the action.
Urmilesh and Chakravarty emerged from the Special Cell office at Lodhi Road after about six hours of questioning. They did not respond to queries from media persons who had gathered at the spot.
"I will not say anything," Urmilesh told the battery of camera crews.

The Enforcement Directorate had earlier conducted raids at the firm's premises to probe its sources of funding. The Special Cell is now continuing the searches on the basis of inputs provided by the central agency, officials said.
The Special Cell has registered a new case under the anti-terror law, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and started an investigation, they said.
Delhi Police sources said the raids are based on a case registered in August under UAPA and other sections of IPC, including Section 153A (promoting enmity between two groups), 120B (criminal conspiracy).

Officials in the know said police seized laptops and mobile phones related to some NewsClick journalists.
A Special Cell team took Sharma with it after questioning him at his home in Noida Extension. Before he was detained, Abhisar Sharma wrote on X, "Delhi police landed at my home. Taking away my laptop and phone."
Another journalist, Bhasha Singh, wrote on X, "Finally last tweet from this phone. Delhi police seizure (sic) my phone."

Hashmi's sister Shabnam Hashmi, posted on X, "Today, early morning at 6 am, Delhi Police's special cell raided Sohail Hashmi's residence. 6 people barged into the house and the bedroom."
She alleged that the team questioned him for two hours and seized his computer, phone, hard disc and flash drives.

The police action drew a sharp reaction from the opposition parties, which accused the BJP of indulging in a "witch-hunt" against journalists who criticise the government.
Opposition bloc INDIA strongly condemned the raids and alleged that the BJP government's "coercive" actions are directed only against those who speak truth to power and not against those who spread hatred and divisiveness.

The Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance said in a statement that the 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.

Congress leader Pawan Khera said the early morning raids on contributing journalists at NewsClick come as a "fresh distraction from the explosive findings of caste census in Bihar and the growing demand for caste census across the country."

"When he faces questions from out of syllabus, he resorts to the only counter he has in his predictable syllabus - DISTRACTION," Khera said on X.
Samajwadi party president Akhilesh Yadav termed the searches a sign of a "losing BJP."

"This is not a new thing, BJP rulers have always raided honest journalists. But how many crores of rupees are being given to 'Mitra channels' every month in the name of government 'prachar-prasar' (advertisements), anyone should also print this," Yadav said in a post on X.
AAP chief national spokesperson Priyanka Kakkar alleged that the Modi government is pretending to fight China by arresting journalists because it didn't have the courage to engage with it directly.

The Press Club of India said it is deeply concerned about raids on the houses of journalists and writers associated with NewsClick.
"We are monitoring the developments and will be releasing a detailed statement. The PCI stands in solidarity with the journalists and demands the government to come out with details," it said.

In August, the Delhi High Court sought Purkayastha's stand on a plea by the city police seeking vacation of an earlier order granting him interim protection from arrest in an unlawful foreign funding case.

The website recently hit the headlines for allegedly receiving money from US millionaire Neville Roy Singham for pro-China propaganda in India.
Citing an investigation by The New York Times, Thakur had recently claimed that NewsClick's money trail revealed an "anti-India agenda".

(With PTI inputs)

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