The Enforcement Directorate of the Indian Finance Ministry arrested journalist Rajeev Sharma on allegations of money laundering on July 1, 2021. Sharma was previously arrested by Delhi Police in September 2020 on allegations of espionage on behalf of the Chinese government.
Sharma is a freelance journalist who runs a YouTube channel covering politics and foreign policy, and has written for publications including the China-based newspaper Global Times and the Malaysia-based news website South Asian Monitor, according to Newslaundry.
He previously worked for Indian news outlets, including news agency UNI and English-language newspaper The Tribune, and was associated with Vivekananda Foundation, a security and foreign policy think tank whose founding director is Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, according to Newslaundry and The Hindu.
On the night of September 14, 2020, the Special Cell of the Delhi police arrested Sharma at his home in New Delhi, accusing him of violating the Official Secrets Act and possessing defense-related classified documents, according to various news reports.
According to the chargesheet, dated November 28, 2020, police claimed to have found “confidential documents” on a laptop and in Sharma’s residence. That chargesheet, which CPJ reviewed, alleges that police found evidence on Sharma’s mobile phone that he was in touch with a Chinese “handler” who offered money through “illegal channels” in exchange for information on the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, Indo-China relations, and other geopolitical issues.
Following Sharma’s arrest, his wife Pratima Vyas claimed in a letter to the Delhi Police Special Cell that the police had “destroyed some material evidence and at the same time fabricated some evidence.” According to Vyas, she and her neighbor were made to sign seizure memos by the police which they were not allowed to read.
According to The Hindu and Sharma’s sister Sarika Sharma, who spoke to CPJ by phone, the police did not disclose any specific information about the alleged classified documents they seized. Indian authorities have been accused of planting evidence in the electronic devices of detained journalists, including Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde, according to the Washington Post.
On December 4, 2020, Sharma was released after being granted bail by the Delhi High Court because the November 28 chargesheet was not filed within the required 60 days of his September 14 arrest, according to The Wire.
Although he was in custody on December 1, 2020, Sharma was not included in CPJ’s 2020 prison census because CPJ could not determine at the time if he was being targeted for his work as a journalist.
The police filed another chargesheet in January 2021, and the Enforcement Directorate re-arrested Sharma on July 1, accusing him of violating the country’s Prevention of Money Laundering Act, according to the Indian Express.
According to another chargesheet filed on August 28, 2021, which CPJ reviewed, the Enforcement Directorate alleged that Sharma received undocumented cash through New Delhi-based shell companies run by Chinese nationals in exchange for providing confidential and sensitive information to Chinese intelligence.
Sharma’s lawyer claimed that the payment was related to Sharma’s articles for South Asian Monitor, Sarika Sharma told CPJ.
She added that the documents which have been allegedly seized by Delhi police’s Special Cell are all available in public domain and don’t come under the purview of the Official Secret Act, asking, “why will anyone pay my brother money for documents which are easily available?”
Sharma’s trial under the Officials Secrets Act began on November 27, 2021; his bail application in the money laundering investigation was scheduled for December 8, according to Sarika.
If charged and convicted under the Official Secrets Act, Sharma could face a fine and up to 14 years in prison, according to the law; if charged and convicted of money laundering, Sharma could face up to seven years in prison, according to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002.
Sharma’s sister said that the journalist is 62 years old and suffers from acute sinus infections, which require constant treatment from a nebulizer. He has already undergone two surgeries and stands a high risk of complications if he contracted COVID-19, she said.
Sharma is currently held in Tihar Jail in New Delhi, Sarika told CPJ.
CPJ emailed the Delhi Police and the Enforcement Directorate for comment, but did not receive any reply.