On October 19, a Supreme Court Bench of Justices B.R. Gavai and P.K. Mishra issued a notice to the Delhi Police in connection with petitions challenging the arrest and custody of NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha and employee Amir Chakraborty under the harsh Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
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The NewsClick Case
On August 17, 2023, the case against NewsClick and Mr Purakayastha was filed, and UAPA was invoked against its executives. Terrorist actions, terror funding, and criminal conspiracy have all been charged against the media outlet. It is also accused of creating hatred between two groups.
The lawsuit is centred on 38 crore in alleged foreign money received by the news outlet. According to Enforcement Directorate sources, Chinese organisations invested in NewsClick to spread pro-Chinese information.
According to reports, Newsclick got 9.6 crore in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in April 2018 from the US-based M/s Worldwide Media Holdings LLC, which purchased its shares at an inflated premium of 11,510 per share.
Jason Pfetcher, an associate of Neville Roy Singham, a China citizen who is supposedly a Communist Party of China contact person, founded the firm in 2017. According to insiders, he injected cash into NewsClick to promote “leftist ideology.”
NewsClick reportedly got 28 crore in foreign exchange payments from two US-based businesses between 2018 and 2022. During the investigation, however, it was unable to offer any proof of exporting services to US corporations, according to sources.
They claim that the mysterious source of 38 crore in foreign cash may be traced back to Neville Roy Singham.
Supreme Court Order
The Supreme Court issued a notice to the Delhi Police on Thursday in response to petitions filed by NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha and HR director Amit Chakravarty contesting their arrest and subsequent police remand in a case under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), an anti-terror statute.
A Bench led by Justice BR Gavai directed the Delhi Police to answer to the petitions filed by Purkayastha and Chakravarty and set the issue for October 30. The judgement came after senior attorneys Kapil Sibal and Devadatt Kamat, who represented Purkayastha and Chakravarty, respectively, requested the Bench to hear the case as soon as possible because the accused had been imprisoned since their arrest on October 3.
Purkayastha and Chakraborty have filed an appeal against a Delhi High Court decision that dismissed their petitions against their arrest and custody under the UAPA.
The Supreme Court decided on Monday to hear the case promptly after Sibal raised it before a bench led by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud. On Wednesday, the Justice Gavai-led Bench scheduled a hearing for Thursday, stating that it needed to review the papers.
Purkayastha and Chakravarty were detained on October 3 by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police after the Delhi Police filed a case against the duo under UAPA for allegedly taking money to propagate pro-China propaganda.
According to the FIR, substantial sums of money were sent to the news outlet from China in order to “disrupt India’s sovereignty” and sow discontent with the country.
Delhi High Court Hearing
Last week, the Delhi High Court dismissed petitions filed by Purkayastha and Chakravarty contesting their detention and subsequent police remand under the UAPA’s harsh provisions.
Justice Tushar Rao Gedela dismissed their appeals as “devoid of any merit,” concluding that there was no “procedural infirmity” or breach of legal or constitutional principles in respect to
the arrest and that the remand order was legitimate.
The high court had attempted to highlight that offences under the UAPA had a direct impact on the country’s stability, integrity, and sovereignty, and were critical because they endangered national security.
UAPA and Journalists
Several journalists’ collectives from across the country wrote to Chief Justice Chandrachud a few days ago, urging him to take consideration of and investigate the “inherent malice” behind the raids on the homes of 46 journalists, editors, writers, and professionals connected to the online portal NewsClick, as well as the seizure of their electronic devices.
The collectives emphasised in the letter that “journalism cannot be prosecuted as terrorism.” The use of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) has been regarded as “especially chilling.”
According to the letter, the police have only provided vague assertions of some unspecified offence as a pretext for questioning journalists about their coverage of the farmers’ movement, the government’s handling of the pandemic, and the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
The letter further said that media intimidation has a negative influence on society’s democratic fabric. Subjecting journalists to a concentrated criminal procedure because the government disapproves of their coverage of national and international matters was noticed as an attempt to chill the press through the prospect of retaliation.
The letter also said that journalists detained under the UAPA spend months, if not years, in jail.
The next hearing for this case has been scheduled for 30th October.