The Delhi Police has sealed the office of news portal NewsClick in connection with its probe into a case filed under the anti-terror law UAPA following allegations that it received money for pro-China propaganda.
The Delhi Police’s Special Cell searched 30 locations connected with the news portal and its journalists on Tuesday.
The police said no one has so far been arrested during the searches concentrated in Delhi-NCR. Founder and editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha was taken to the portal’s south Delhi office where a forensic team was present.
A source had said that some other agencies are also likely to be involved in the action that was initiated based on inputs from the Enforcement Directorate in connection with foreign funds.
The Delhi Police is also searching the residence of activist Teesta Setalvad in Mumbai, in relation with this case.
The Delhi Police has registered a case under various sections of UAPA and Sections 153A (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence) and 120B IPC (Criminal Conspiracy). The fresh case by Special Cell was registered on August 17.
Senior journalist Abhisar Sharma said on social media platform X (formerly, Twitter), “Delhi police landed at my home. Taking away my laptop and Phone...”
Confirming the development, journalist Bhasha Singh, who hosts a talk show on NewsClick, said on X, “Finally last tweet from this phone. Delhi police seizure my phone.”
Searches were also carried out at the residence of CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, who stated that the Delhi police was there to question a NewsClick staffer, residing on the same premises as Mr. Yechury.
Reacting to the raids, Congress Spokesperson Pawan Khera posted on X: “The early morning raids on contributing journalists at Newsclick comes as fresh distraction from the explosive findings of caste census in Bihar and the growing demand for caste census across the country.”
Raids in 2021
The Enforcement Directorate had searched the premises linked to NewsClick in February 2021, in connection with a money laundering investigation into receipt of about ₹38 crore from a U.S.-based entity having links in China, between 2018 and 2021, as alleged.
On June 21, 2021, the Delhi High Court had directed the ED not to take any coercive action against NewsClick and Mr. Purkayastha in connection with the money laundering case.
The FIR in the case alleged that PPK Newsclick Studio Pvt Ltd received Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) of ₹9.59 crore from Worldwide Media Holdings LLC USA during the financial year 2018-19. It claimed that the investment was made by greatly overvaluing the shares of the petitioner company to avoid the alleged cap of 26% of FDI in a digital news website. It further alleged that over 45% of this investment was diverted/siphoned off for the payment of salary/consultancy, rent and other expenses, which are alleged to have been made for ulterior motives.
The ED initiated its probe on the basis of a Delhi Police FIR and has conducted searches on the premises of NewsClick and several other places in connection with the money received from overseas.
In September 2021, the Income-Tax Department had conducted surveys on the official premises of NewsClick, besides Newslaundry, in South Delhi to examine their financial records.
In August this year, the Delhi High Court asked NewsClick and its editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha to respond to a plea by the ED seeking vacation of a 2021 order granting them protection from coercive action in a money laundering case.
Centre had alleged discrepancies in funding of news outlet
Meanwhile, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur said probe agencies in the country are independent and work as per law, referring to the raids.
About two months back, senior Union Ministers, and BJP MPs had cited a report by TheNew York Times drawing connections between Chinese firms and the funding of the NewsClick website.
BJP MP Nishikant Dubey in the Lok Sabha had said the article detailed how NewsClick had received ₹38 crore in funding and that money had been used to create an “anti-India” atmosphere
“If you see the funding network of NewsClick, it was funded by a foreigner Neville Roy Singham and he gets funds from China. This Neville Roy Singham has direct contact with the propaganda arm of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese media company Maku Group,” Mr. Thakur had said.
“There is a remarkable similarity in misinformation, lies and hatred spread by platforms like NewsClick and the false narratives echoed blandly by Rahul Gandhi,” said Information Technology Minister Mr. Rajeev Chandrashekhar.
Journalists’ associations condemn raids
The National Alliance of Journalists, the Delhi Union of Journalists, and the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (Delhi Unit) have condemned the police raids at the houses of journalists.
“The government has been targeting Newsclick apparently after the coverage this news portal gave to the issues of workers and farmers. We believe that this is yet another attempt by the Centre to muzzle the freedom of press. Such an action, raiding and intimidating almost all the employees in a media organisation, is unheard of,” the organisations have said.
“These new raids are to divert public attention from burning livelihood issues of people. Unfortunately, journalists are being targeted for furthering the political agenda of the ruling party. We condemn this with the strongest possible words. We will stand with these journalists in this matter. We urge the Centre to immediately stop this attack on press freedom We urge the media fraternity to protest against this witch-hunt by the government,” a joint statement read.
(With inputs from Soibam Rocky Singh, Devesh K. Pandey, Sonam Saigal, and PTI)