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Last week, the police took action against NewsClick, sealing its office, arresting its editor and administrative head, questioning more than 40 journalists linked to the outlet, and seizing many of its electronic devices.
According to sources, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has assumed control of the inquiry into alleged breaches of foreign funding regulations by the NewsClick website.
On October 3, the Special Cell of the Delhi Police apprehended NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha under the anti-terror law, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. This came days after a New York Times investigation alleged that the news portal had received funding from a network promoting Chinese propaganda. Amit Chakravarty, the HR head of the news portal, was also arrested.
On Wednesday morning, the Economic Offences Wing team of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) conducted a search at both the NewsClick office and the residence of editor Prabir Purkayastha in Delhi. They were at his residence, questioning his partner, the renowned author Githa Hariharan, until around 1 p.m. The search at the office continued for an extended period.
Multiple authorities, including the Delhi Police Special Cell, Delhi Police Economic Offences Wing, Enforcement Directorate, and Income Tax Department, are actively investigating the case against NewsClick, which involves allegations of receiving funding from China and disseminating Chinese propaganda.
According to ANI, the CBI has initiated an investigation into alleged violations of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. NewsClick stated on its X account, “This is the fifth agency that is investigating us. We are cooperating with the authorities.”
In court, NewsClick has vehemently refuted all allegations, affirming that no funds from China have been received by the organization. Media rights organizations from both India and around the world have criticized the actions against NewsClick, viewing it as an assault on press freedom and an effort to suppress those who challenge the narrative of the Narendra Modi government.
Sources suggest that the CBI’s involvement in an FCRA case stems from the fact that the initial charges of using the FDI route for the company lack coherence, as the transaction involves two private parties. By categorizing it as an FCRA matter under a different agency, there is also the potential for another central agency to potentially seek custody and prevent release if bail is granted in the near future. This approach has been observed in numerous cases where evidence is either weak or nonexistent.
After one week, the news organization has been striving to maintain operations despite the scarcity of resources. Although the office was unsealed two days after the search, employees are now “crowdsourcing” devices and working from their homes, all while facing the looming threat of potential further actions. The editorial process has been made more efficient, but content production has decreased to nearly half of its previous volume.
Disha, a member of the NewsClick team, mentioned, “The enthusiasm to work is actually higher than ever. We are trying to do whatever we can with limited resources.” She added, “We never anticipated that every single employee – even those who are new and have no involvement in decision-making – would be targeted.”
The NewsClick website was back in operation a day after the police intervention, releasing a statement addressing the raids and refuting all allegations. Since then, the organization has been striving to publish its regular editorial content, ranging from articles to interviews and explainers.
During the search operation, the Delhi Police Special Cell confiscated nearly all crucial electronic devices, including laptops, phones, and hard disks belonging to both employees and the organization. A senior journalist at NewsClick asserted, “There is nothing left in the office except a few video cameras,” expressing uncertainty about when the devices will be returned.
Uma, a senior journalist associated with NewsClick, with Newslaundry, explained that only a handful of individuals have not had their homes raided nor their devices confiscated. As a result, the staff strength is quite limited, but there is a strong determination to continue their work.
“Many of our employees have been summoned for questioning two or three times. A lot of them have been kept waiting for eight to ten hours, and then the questioning may only last for 10 minutes, half an hour, or an hour. But the entire day is consumed,” Uma stated.
According to Newslaundry, in the absence of the founder editor Prabir Purkayastha, a group of senior journalists has been responsible for making editorial decisions. A meeting was held on Sunday among NewsClick staff to address various matters. Employees have been advised to be cautious when interacting with the media. The matter of salaries was also raised, and employees were reassured that the organization would seek legal recourse if the company’s accounts were frozen. Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court has not yet issued a decision on Purkayastha’s petition contesting the police custody.