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Rights

Global Civil Society Calls for an End to Crackdown on 'NewsClick' and Release of Editor and Staff

'This is a complete assault on press freedom in India... Charging a news outlet under UAPA is a brazen attempt to silence and harass independent media,' said David Kode, advocacy and campaigns lead at CIVICUS.

New Delhi: CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance, has called on the Indian authorities “to end the crackdown against NewsClick and release its editor and staff held” under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

NewsClick’s editor-in-chief, Prabir Purkayastha, and its HR head, Amit Chakravarty, were arrested under charges of terrorism and criminal conspiracy by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police. This happened after the police raided over 70 locations connected to NewsClick, including the homes of its employees, contributors, and consultants.

CIVICUS is a global alliance “of over 10,000 civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world.”

“This is a complete assault on press freedom in India and an act of reprisal against the critical and independent journalism of NewsClick. Charging a news outlet under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, is a brazen attempt to silence and harass independent media, activists and citizens. We call for the immediate release of Prabir Purkayastha and Amit Chakravarty. All charges against NewsClick must be dropped,” said David Kode, advocacy and campaigns lead at CIVICUS.

The raids started on October 3, with the police seizing electronic devices, including mobile phones, laptops and hard disks, of journalists. So far, the police have questioned at least 46 journalists associated with the news outlet.

These journalists were majorly questioned on matters like the 2020 Delhi riots, the farmers’ movement against the Modi government’s laws and the COVID-19 crisis.

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The case against NewsClick is apparently based on a New York Times report that says the portal received funding from an American millionaire who has furthered Chinese talking points. The NYT report was highlighted by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Nishikant Dubey in the Lok Sabha, who claimed that the portal and Congress leaders like Rahul Gandhi received funds from China to create an “anti-India atmosphere”.

However, it is unclear what charges have been levelled against the individuals who were raided or questioned. The search notice used by the police on Tuesday list charges under various sections of UAPA, conspiracy (section 120 B, IPC) and promoting enmity between different groups (153 A).

In the past, the CIVICUS Monitor has documented the misuse of the UAPA law by Indian authorities against activists to stifle dissent.

“This crackdown against independent media is further testimony of the deterioration of civic space in India. The authorities stop misusing repressive laws like the UAPA against activists, civil society and journalists. They must comply with India’s obligations under international human rights laws and standards,” Kode said.