UAPA case against NewsClick for plot to disrupt sovereignty of India: police

NewsClick says it does not propagate Chinese propaganda; Delhi Police allege that a false narrative has been propagated to discredit efforts to contain pandemic

October 04, 2023 09:44 pm | Updated October 05, 2023 07:05 am IST - New Delhi

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

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

A day after the Delhi Police arrested Prabir Purkayastha, founder and Editor-in-Chief of NewsClick, and Amit Chakraborty, Human Resources head of the news portal, a government source told The Hindu that the police were investigating a “terror case that has Chinese links.” 

The foreign remittances received by the news portal are already being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) since 2021. 

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

The source said that the fresh terror case registered by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police was being investigated by multiple agencies.

NewsClick, whose office was sealed by the police a day ago, said in a statement on Wednesday that it does not publish any news or information at the behest of any Chinese entity or authority, directly or indirectly. “NewsClick does not propagate Chinese propaganda on its website,” the news portal said.

Another official said they were probing if the foreign funds were being used for “information warfare.”

The portal said all funding had been through the appropriate banking channels and had been reported to the relevant authorities as required by law, as substantiated by the Reserve Bank of India in proceedings before the High Court of Delhi.

“All journalistic content ever published on the NewsClick website is available on the Internet and can be seen by anyone. The Special Cell of the Delhi Police has not referred to a single article or video that they consider to be Chinese propaganda,” it said.

ED’s charge

The ED had accused the company of money laundering, claiming that the portal received ₹77 crore as foreign remittance between the years 2018-21.

Meanwhile, Delhi’s Patiala House Court on Wednesday passed no orders on an application filed by Mr. Purkayastha’s counsel to make a copy of the FIR available to the accused. The court, however, allowed the accused to meet his lawyer.

Additional sessions judge Hardeep Kaur, earlier on Tuesday night, had remanded Mr. Purkayastha and Mr. Chakraborty, also a shareholder in the company, in seven-day police custody in connection with a case lodged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Advocate Arshdeep Singh, who appeared for the accused, argued that they have a right to get the FIR copy by citing Section 41D, Cr.PC (right of arrested person to meet an advocate of his choice during interrogation). 

The court decided to hear on Thursday the matter of supply of FIR copy but ordered that a copy of the remand order should be provided to both the accused. 

Regarding the interrogation conducted for over six hours of 46 “suspects” on Tuesday, a senior police officer said they questioned the suspects — including contributors, employees and consultant on how their association began with NewsClick and how they are associated currently.

“We asked them regarding what kind of money NewsClick paid, and what kind of reportage and stories they have done across years,” he said.

The officer later said, the police specifically asked them about all big events and protests they have covered and been a part of.

“Employee details were also sought; we also asked those who were working as contractual employees at NewsClick; we read through the documents of both employment and contractual workers,” he added.

Phones seized

The phones and laptops of all the employees, contributors and consultants of the news portal were seized by the police.

Regarding more rounds of questioning, the officer said, “on Tuesday, it was the first round of questioning, however, the suspects will be called on various dates by serving them a notice under Section 43 (F) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (power to arrest, search).”

On being asked about the questions put forward against the arrested accused persons, the officer said, the line of questioning was different than suspects.

Police had on August 17 registered a case under Sections 13, 16, 17, 18 and 22 of the anti-terror UAPA pertaining to unlawful activities, raising of funds for a terrorist act, threatening witness and Sections 153 A and 120 B of the IPC (promoting religious enmity between groups on grounds of religion and criminal conspiracy respectively).

As reported by The Hindu, the journalists were asked questions about Delhi communal riots and the CAA agitation of 2019-20, farmers’ protest of 2020-2021, their association with Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), and if they used encrypted messaging applications such as Signal on their phones or wrote anything about Sikh separatism issue.  

‘Secret inputs’

The Delhi Police submitted in court that the UAPA case was based on “secret inputs” that foreign funds in crores have been infused illegally into India by Indian and foreign entities with the intention to disrupt the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India.

The police accused the NewsClick founder of holding discussions with Neville Roy Singham, an “active member of Propaganda department of Communist Party of China” to distort the map of India by projecting Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as disputed territory. Police said they had recovered around 4.73 lakh emails and the accused need to be confronted and interrogated to unearth the conspiracy.

Incidentally, the Delhi Police registered the FIR days after The New York Times published a report on August 8 that the portal received money from Mr. Singham, the American businessman, to spread Chinese propaganda.

According to the police, the ED also registered a second case against NewsClick on August 14, following the NYT report and during investigation the agency seized electronic gadgets from the suspects. It said the data extracted by the ED was stored in five hard disks, the analysis of which revealed a “larger conspiracy that the accused persons along with accused Neville Roy Singham conspired to create disaffection among various sections of the society and they are also found to be actively sympathising with banned terrorist organisation.”

Police said the accused received ₹115 crore foreign funds. “A false narrative has been propagated to discredit the efforts of the Indian government to contain the COVID-19 pandemic,” the police said.

“Secret inputs revealed that Prabir Purkayastha, Neville Roy Singham and some other Chinese employees of Neville Roy Singham-owned Shanghai-based company by the name of StarStream have exchanged mails which expose their intent to show Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as not part of India...Their attempts to tinker with the northern borders of India and to show Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as not parts of India in maps amount to an act intended towards undermining the unity and territorial integrity of India,” the police’s application in the court seeking 15 days’ remand of the accused said.

The police claimed that the accused persons have also conspired to disrupt supplies and services essential to the life of community in India and abet damage and destruction of property by protraction of farmers’ protest through such illegal foreign funding.

“It was learnt that Prabir Purkayastha conspired with a group namely People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism [PADS] to sabotage the electoral process during the 2019 general elections,” the application further said.

“Since April, 2018, such fraudulent funds in crores of rupees have been received by PPK NewsClick Studio Pvt. Ltd through illegal means during a short span of five years from Worldwide Media Holdings LLC, USA and others,” the remand application stated.

Police said such illegally routed foreign funds have been siphoned off by Prabir Purkayastha and his associates namely Joseph Raj, Anoop Chakraborty (brother of Amit Chakraborty), Bappaditya Sinha (promoter of Virtunet Systems Pvt Ltd.). It is also learnt that aforementioned funds were distributed to Gautam Navlakha, associates of Teesta Setalvad namely Javed Anand, Tamara, Jibran, Urmilesh, Aratrika Halder, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Trina Shankar, Abhisar Sharma, etc.”

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