NewsClick raids | Media bodies write to CJI, call for norms on interrogation of journalists

Norms must be framed to ensure devices are not seized on a “whim”, and that interrogations are not “fishing expeditions”; protests across capital against raids on NewsClick employees and associates

October 04, 2023 10:30 pm | Updated 11:54 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Journalists during a protest meeting over police actions on news portal NewsClick, at Press Club of India in New Delhi on October 4, 2023.

Journalists during a protest meeting over police actions on news portal NewsClick, at Press Club of India in New Delhi on October 4, 2023. | Photo Credit: Shashi Shekhar Kashyap

Over a dozen media bodies on Wednesday sought Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud’s intervention on the issue of raids against those linked to NewsClick, a digital news platform. Media persons and activists also turned up in large numbers at the Press Club of India to protest the police action.

In a letter to the Chief Justice, the media organisations urged the courts to consider framing norms to discourage the seizure of journalists’ phones and laptops on a “whim”; and to develop guidelines for the interrogation of journalists and for seizures from them, to ensure that “these are not undertaken as fishing expeditions with no bearing to an actual offence”.

Also Read | After NewsClick raids, journalists’ collectives write to CJI, say ‘journalism cannot be prosecuted as terrorism’

They also requested the courts to consider finding ways to ensure the accountability of State agencies and individual officers who were found overstepping the law or wilfully misleading courts with vague and open-ended investigations against journalists for their journalistic work.

“[T]he developments over the past 24 hours have left us no option but to appeal to your good conscience to take cognisance and intervene before it is too late and an autocratic police state becomes the norm,” said the letter, adding that as journalists and news professionals, they were always ready and willing to cooperate with any bona fide investigation.

The letter’s signatories were: Digipub News India Foundation; Indian Women’s Press Corps; Press Club of India, New Delhi; Foundation for Media Professionals; Network of Women in Media, India; Chandigarh Press Club; National Alliance of Journalists; Delhi Union of Journalists; Kerala Union of Working Journalists; Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists; Free Speech Collective, Mumbai; Mumbai Press Club; Arunachal Pradesh Union of Working Journalists; Press Association of India; and the Guwahati Press Club.

The raids also evoked protests in several parts of the national capital. Over a hundred journalists, activists and public intellectuals gathered at the Press Club of India in solidarity with those who were rounded up by the Delhi police in connection with the arrests of NewsClick’s editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha and its Human Resources head, Amit Chakravorty.

OPINION | Undeclared Emergency: On the arrests and actions in the Newsclick case

Addressing a large crowd, journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, who was interrogated by the police on Tuesday, said that he was one of the few people who had received back both his sim card and phone after the Delhi police had seized it from him. “They asked me if I knew Neville Roy Singham to which I informed them that I did not. Further they asked me if I had spoken to S. Bhatnagar from the United States, to which I told them that I had, because he is my brother-in-law,” Mr. Guha Thakurta said.

The senior journalist was further asked whether he had covered the Delhi riots and the farmers’ agitation, and whether he used the Signal social media platform. “I told them I did not cover the Delhi riots, but I did cover the farmers’ agitation and that I’m on Signal,” he added.

Referring to the arrests of the 75-year-old Mr. Purkayastha and Mr. Chakravorty, Mr. Guha Thakurta said that this was a black day for press freedom in India. “It is a clear signal that they are coming for every journalist in this country,” he said.

Standing in solidarity with the associates of NewsClick, writer Arundhati Roy said that the BJP-led Union government has once again used the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) to limit the freedom of the press in the country. “The Act that deals with terrorism is now being used against writers, intellectuals and journalists, thus collapsing the difference between the former and the latter,” said Ms. Roy. She told The Hindu that such actions were “tactics of intimidation before the election season”.

Seema Chisti, editor of The Wire, a digital news platform, said that such actions by the government do not create fear in the minds of those who are speaking truth to power. “Just like Mr. Modi, we too are doing our duty of providing the citizens with information, and we will continue to do so,” she said.

Other eminent personalities who take part in the protest included activist Harsh Mander, social scientist and politician Yogendra Yadav, and historian Ramachandra Guha.

At another protest at Jantar Mantar, activist Shabnam Hashmi also said that this was an attack on press freedom. A continuous attack on democratic voices is a symptom of fear within the BJP regime of its imminent loss in 2024, she said.

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