New Delhi, February 10, 2021 — Indian authorities must immediately stop occupying the offices of the news website Newsclick and cease harassing its editors and managers, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Since yesterday morning, officers with the Indian Finance Ministry’s Enforcement Directorate have raided Newsclick’s New Delhi office, as well as the homes of its editor-in-chief, Prabir Purkayastha, one other editor, and two members of its management, according to a senior editor with the outlet, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, and various news reports.
As of today, officers continue to occupy Newsclick’s office and Purkayastha’s home, the editor said, adding that reporters and other editorial staff are continuing to work from the field and their homes.
The editor said that the exact reason for the raids was unclear, and the Enforcement Directorate has not stated why they were conducted. The Hindu reported, citing an unnamed Enforcement Directorate official, that the raids were conducted in relation to a money laundering investigation, and that authorities had discovered evidence that the outlet received funds from abroad.
In a statement published this afternoon, the Newsclick editorial team denied any wrongdoing.
“The raid on Newsclick and the occupation of its office and the home of Prabir Purkayastha are clearly designed to intimidate, and will have a chilling effect on critical news outlets,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher. “India’s Enforcement Directorate must immediately cease occupying the Newsclick offices and the home of its editor, refrain from seizing any data or devices, and allow the outlet to continue its work without interference.”
According to the senior editor, Newsclick employees have had no contact with Purkayastha or other senior staffers since the raids began. “They were only allowed one or two urgent calls on speakerphone to get medicines and to assure family and friends,” the editor said.
Yesterday afternoon, Pranjal, an editor at the outlet, who uses one name, was allowed to briefly step out of the office and speak to journalists assembled there, according to the news website Newslaundry. Flanked by two Enforcement Directorate officials who did not allow the media to record the briefing, Pranjal said, “our documents are being checked” and did not elaborate further, according to that report.
In its statement issued this afternoon, Newsclick accused the Indian government of using “government-controlled agencies to deal with all those who disagree with and criticize the government.” The statement said that the outlet is cooperating with the authorities.
Newsclick has extensively covered anti-government protests throughout India, and hosts video programs anchored by journalists including Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Abhisar Sharma, who have been critical of the government’s policies.
CPJ emailed the Enforcement Directorate for comment, but did not receive any response.
In October 2018, officers with India’s Income Tax Department raided the offices of the news website The Quint, as CPJ documented at the time.