New Delhi: Two NewsClick employees – editor Prabir Purkayastha and administrator Amit Chakravarty – were arrested by the Delhi police under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) on Tuesday, October 3, when officers raided nearly 50 journalists and commentators associated with the news outlet from early morning onwards.
In total, 37 men and nine women were raided and questioned in connection with FIR number 224/2023. While the men were taken to the Delhi police special cell’s office, the women were questioned at their residences. Some documents and electronic devices like laptops and mobile phones were seized by the police for ‘examination’.
By around 8:30 pm, all those who were taken to the special cell’s office – except Purkayastha and Amit Chakravarty – were released. Amit Chakravarty, who is the head of the HR department, is a person with disabilities and uses crutches, The Wire has learnt.
According to Indian Express, the case was registered against NewsClick and was filed on August 17, 2023. It invokes several sections (13, 16, 17, 18, and 22) of the draconian UAPA, along with 153(a) (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony) and 120 (b) (party to a criminal conspiracy other than a criminal conspiracy to commit an offence) of the Indian Penal Code.
The FIR purportedly has its roots in a New York Times report published in August. The Wire had reported how BJP MP Nishikant Dubey had cited the report in the Lok Sabha to claim that Congress leaders and NewsClick had received funds from China to create an “anti-India” atmosphere.
In swoops reminiscent of the Emergency in 1975 on newspersons, video journalist Abhisar Sharma, senior journalist Bhasha Singh, veteran journalists Urmilesh and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, NewsClick editor Prabir Purkayastha and writer Githa Hariharan, renowned journalist and commentator on political economy Aunindyo Chakravarty, activist and historian Sohail Hashmi, and satirist and stand-up comic Sanjay Rajaura were ‘raided’ early on Tuesday. Others who were raided include Satyam Tiwari, former NewsClick managing editor Pranjal.
The homes of past and present Newsclick journalists, contributors and employees were targeted in the raids. Among these are former Hindu journalist and Newsclick contributor Anuradha Raman, Satyam Tiwari, Aditi Nigam and Sumedha Pal.
The police did not provide a hash value – which defines how much data is on a digital device at the time of its seizure, so that any possible tampering is revealed – to any person whose devices were seized.
The police have put a lock on the NewsClick‘s office in New Delhi.
Special Cell, DCP (PRO) Suman Nalwa said, “Regarding the search, seizure and detentions carried out today in connection with a UAPA case… a total of 37 male suspects have been questioned at premises, and nine female suspects have been questioned at their respective places of stay and digital devices, documents etc. have been seized and collected for examination.”
Nalwa said the proceedings are still ongoing and so far, two accused – Prabir Purkayastha and Amit Chakravarty – have been arrested. “Further investigation is in progress,” the DCP said.
Guha Thakurta, who was released around 6 pm, told the media that the police asked him bizarre questions – such as if he called a US number which his brother-in-law uses and if he uses the Signal messaging app. He said many of his colleagues were brought to the special cell.
Purkayastha was taken to the Newsclick office from his home, and then later to the Special Cell headquarters. Sources told The Wire that the police of about 15 people had reached his residence between 6:30 and 7 am. They seized all electronic devices in the house, including those belonging to his partner, writer Githa Hariharan. Sources said they were not provided any paperwork on the seizure or a copy of the receipt.
At Bhasha Singh’s house, the raid went on for more than two hours.
The home of activist Teesta Setalvad was also raided. Setalvad, who lives in Mumbai, is being questioned by Delhi police officers, it has been learnt. Setalvad runs the Sabrang portal, which focuses on news and analysis. Journalist Subodh Verma, earlier with Times of India and now associated with Newsclick, was also raided, it is learnt. He has also been taken in for questioning, it is learnt.
A little before 4 pm, Urmilesh and Chakravarty were let out of the special cell office. The Wire has confirmed that he was released around 5:30 pm, while Abhisar Sharma was released around 6 pm. This was followed by the release of Paranjoy Guha Thakurta around 6:30 pm. Subodh Verma was also released around 7 pm.
Others who were also released include Bappaditya Sinha, Satyam Tiwari and Prabir Purkayastha’s son Pratik.
Employees across roles and levels targeted
Earlier in the morning, police visited the houses of Newsclick employees across roles and levels and seized their devices. Employees were asked about whether they had reported on events like the farmers protest and the COVID pandemic in India.
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 . Questioned him for two hours . The cops have seized his computer, phone, hard disc and flash drives. His residence was one among many…
— Shabnam Hashmi (@ShabnamHashmi) October 3, 2023
At the time of writing this, questioning by Delhi police was going on. Sources say that scientist and writer associated with the Delhi Science Forum, D. Raghunandan, has been “taken away by the police”.
Others have spoken about their devices, laptops and telephones being seized.
Delhi police landed at my home. Taking away my laptop and Phone…
— Abhisar Sharma (@abhisar_sharma) October 3, 2023
Journalist Bhasha Singh tweeted what would be the final missive from her phone, before its seizure.
Finally last tweet from this phone. Delhi police seizure my phone.
— bhasha singh (@Bhashak) October 3, 2023
Delhi Police barged into my home at 6 am. Took my laptop, phone, hard disks etc. Questioned about the reporting I have done. This is in link with UAPA case against @NewsClick. Great time to be a journo. #PressFreedom
— Aritry (She/Her) (@aritry) October 3, 2023
Cartoonist Irfan K also tweeted that his devices had been seized.
— IrfanKCartoons (@IRFANSCARTOONS) October 3, 2023
Sources told The Wire that comedian Rajaura has been taken to the Special Cell, Lodhi Road by the police. Police said they were taking him for questioning but not arresting him.
Delhi police come to comic and satirist Sanjay Rajaura’s house. Forcibly take his phone and lap top for “investigation”.
— Abhinandan Sekhri (@AbhinandanSekhr) October 3, 2023
Union information and broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur, when asked about the raids, said in the afternoon, “The probe agencies are independent and they are doing their jobs by following rules…I don’t need to justify the raids. If someone has done something wrong, the probe agencies do their job. It’s nowhere written that probe agencies can’t take action if money has come to you from wrong sources or something objectionable has been done.”
The Press Club of India and other media organisations have registered concern at the raids.
The Press Club of India is deeply concerned about the multiple raids conducted on the houses of journalists and writers associated with #Newsclick.
We are monitoring the developments and will be releasing a detailed statement.
— Press Club of India (@PCITweets) October 3, 2023
Journalists, activists and artists who speak truth to power are being unrelentingly harassed and persecuted by the government, while pliant and sycophantic mediapersons and media houses are being nurtured. This campaign to quell dissent has to stop. (2/2)
— NWMIndia (@NWM_India) October 3, 2023
DIGIPUB's statement condemning the police raids at the homes of journalists and seizure of devices. pic.twitter.com/U77lzSiSnq
— DIGIPUB News India Foundation (@DigipubIndia) October 3, 2023
India has been falling sharply and by a huge number of ranks down the World Press Freedom Index and is currently in the bottom 20 countries. It is among the lowest ranked in the G20 countries too as far as press freedom is concerned. Democratic backsliding has been recorded by all global indices, Freedom House, V-Dem, and the Economist’s index regularly since 2015.
This is a developing story and will be updated as more information is available.
Note: An earlier version of this article erroneously said Bhasha Singh was taken for questioning to the special cell headquarters.
Note: An earlier version of this article carried a tweet from the news agency PTI, which said that a person called Gaurav Yadav claimed to be Urmilesh’s advocate. The Wire has been informed that neither Urmilesh nor his family has engaged any lawyer. The tweet has been removed.