NewsClick founder and editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha has been detained under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the penal code since late 2023 on charges, including raising funds for terrorist activities and criminal conspiracy. The 74-year-old was being held in New Delhi’s Tihar Prison Complex as of late 2023.
Indian authorities have subjected NewsClick to numerous forms of harassment in recent years in apparent retaliation for its critical reporting. The Delhi High Court repeatedly intervened to protect Purkayastha from arrest in two separate investigations on allegations of money laundering and unlawful foreign funding.
ARREST AND DETENTION
On October 3, 2023, Delhi police arrested Purkayastha and NewsClick’s head of human resources, Amit Chakraborty, citing an investigation opened in August 2023 by the Delhi Police Special Cell against NewsClick, a digital media outlet known to be critical of the ruling Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party government.
Also on October 3, police searched more than 50 locations connected with NewsClick; questioned 46 people, including its present and past staff and contributing journalists; and seized numerous electronic gadgets, such as laptops and phones.
The targeted journalists were reportedly questioned about whether they covered the 2020 Delhi sectarian riots against controversial citizenship and farm laws and the government’s response to COVID-19.
The police first information report, which CPJ reviewed, also accuses detained journalist and NewsClick columnist and shareholder Gautam Navlakha and others. The police report alleged the accused had received a “large amount” of Chinese funding to publish “paid news” criticizing Indian government policies and “actively propagated false narratives to discredit the efforts of the Indian government to contain Covid-19 Pandemic.” It also claimed they were “inciting dissatisfaction among the people, especially farmers.”
NewsClick has denied all allegations, calling them an “attempt to shut down and stifle independent and fearless voices.”
On October 10, a local court in Delhi ordered Purkayastha and Chakraborty to be sent to jail. Later that month, the two approached the Supreme Court to challenge the Delhi High Court’s verdict on October 13 dismissing their plea against the arrests.
On October 7, the Central Bureau of Investigation opened another probe into NewsClick on allegations of violating the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, making it the fifth governmental agency to investigate the outlet. On October 11, the CBI searched the outlet’s office and Purkayastha’s residence.
Previously, in February 2021, government financial officials raided NewsClick’s office and the homes of Purkayastha and other employees. Income tax officials questioned Purkayastha and another editor for five hours each in June 2021, and raided NewsClick’s office again in September 2021.
In October 2023, CPJ joined 11 rights organizations in urging the Indian government to release all journalists detained in politically motivated cases, calling the retaliation against NewsClick and its staff “a grossly disproportionate measure.”
Delhi police did not respond to CPJ’s email sent in late 2023 requesting comment.