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Still Haven't Been Given Copy of FIR, Details of Offences: Newsclick in Official Statement

'We strongly condemn these actions of a Government that refuses to respect journalistic independence, and treats criticism as sedition or 'anti-national' propaganda.'

New Delhi: Newsclick, the independent news website, editors, journalists, part-time employees and contributors of which were targeted and subjected to raids, device seizures, questioning and arrests a day ago, has released a statement noting they are still in the dark over the case which led to Delhi Police’s action against them.

The official statement, released a day after the website’s director Prabir Purkayastha and one Amit Chakraborty were arrested, said that Newsclick has not yet been provided with a copy of the first information report against it or “informed about the exact particulars of the offences with which we have been charged.”

“What we have been able to gather is that Newsclick stands accused of offences under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), for purportedly carrying Chinese propaganda on its website.

“We strongly condemn these actions of a Government that refuses to respect journalistic independence, and treats criticism as sedition or “anti-national” propaganda.

The Wire has learnt that the action is in connection with FIR number 224/2023, which invokes sections of the draconian UAPA. The FIR, it is believed, has its roots in a New York Times report published in August which BJP MP Nishikant Dubey cited in the Lok Sabha to claim that Congress leaders and NewsClick had received funds from China to create an “anti-India” atmosphere.

The statement notes that all journalistic content ever published on the Newsclick website is available on the internet, and can be seen by anyone and that, notably, police did not appear to focus on this ‘Chinese propaganda’ angle during questioning.

“The Special Cell of Delhi Police has not referred to a single article or video that they consider to be Chinese propaganda. Indeed, the line of questioning adopted by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police – regarding reportage on the Delhi riots, the farmers protests etc., all demonstrate the motivated and malicious intent behind the present proceedings.”

The raids on October 3 began early in the morning and involved over 40 locations across Delhi and Mumbai. In total, 37 men and nine women were raided and questioned, The Wire has reported.

Devices belonging to staffers old and new were seized by police. Some journalists were taken to the Delhi Police’s Special Cell at Lodhi Road for questioning – which continued until late evening.

Newsclick noted that there was no adherence to due process when the devices were seized:

Electronic devices were seized from the Newsclick premises and homes of employees, without any adherence to due process such as the provision of seizure memos, hash values of the seized data, or even copies of the data.

The statement also said that its office has also been sealed, in what it called was a blatant attempt at preventing them “from continuing [their] reporting.”

The statement noted that the website has been targeted before but that little headway was made in this regard, even though seizures happened then as well.

Newsclick has been targeted by a series of actions by various agencies of the Government of India since 2021. Its offices and residences of officials have been raided by the Enforcement Directorate, the Economic Offences Wing of Delhi Police and the Income Tax Department.

All devices, laptops, gadgets, phones, etc. have been seized in the past. All emails and communications have been analysed under the microscope. All bank statements, invoices, expenses incurred, sources of funds received by Newsclick in the last several years have been scrutinised by different agencies of the Government from time to time. Various directors and other related persons have spent countless hours on several occasions being interrogated by these government agencies.

The statement observes that in spite of such action, in the last two plus years, “the Enforcement Directorate has not been able to file a complaint accusing Newsclick of money laundering.” Nor has the Economic Offences Wing of Delhi Police been able to file a charge sheet against Newsclick for offences under the Indian Penal Code, or the Income Tax Department been able to defend its actions before the courts of law.

“In the last several months, Mr. Prabir Purkayastha has not even been called in for questioning by any of these agencies,” the statement said.

Newsclick has called the NYT article “motivated and bogus.” Notably, there have been protests outside the NYT’s offices in the US over the article and its repercussion.

Yet, a Government that has not been able to substantiate any charges against Newsclick despite being in possession of all its information, documentation and communications, needed a motivated and bogus article published in the New York Times to invoke the draconian UAPA and attempt to shut down and stifle independent and fearless voices that portray the story of the real India – of peasants, of labourers, of farmers, and other oft-ignored sections of society.

At the end of the statement, Newsclick has said that it wants to state for the record, the following:

1. Newsclick is an independent news website.

2. Our journalistic content is based on highest standards of the profession.

3. Newsclick does not publish any news or information at the behest of any Chinese entity or authority, directly or indirectly.

4. Newsclick does not propagate Chinese propaganda on its website.

5. Newsclick does not take directions from Neville Roy Singham regarding the content published on its website.

6. All funding received by Newsclick has been through the appropriate banking channels and have been reported to the relevant authorities as required by law, as substantiated by the Reserve Bank of India in proceedings before the High Court of Delhi.

It ends with the words: “We have full faith in the Courts and the judicial process. We will fight for our journalistic freedom and our lives in accordance with the Constitution of India.”