BJP led NDA at the centre has once again shown itself to be intolerant of critical journalism says the media fraternity in relations to the arrest of NewsClick founder cum editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha and another person under the draconian provisions of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

It is told that the trigger point for the set of actions now is apparently an article in The NewYork Times on the motives of an investor in NewsClick and alleged his proximity to the Chinese government. A mere allegations says many journalists.

IN a press statement issued by NewsClick on October 4, it mentioned that on October 3, 2023, raids were carried out by the special cell of the Delhi police at various locations including NewsClick’s offices, residences of journalists and employees – past and present, consultants, and freelance contributors associated with NewsClick.

The press statement underlined that NewsClick has not been provided with a copy of the FIR, or informed about the exact particulars of the offences with which they have been charged. Electronic devices were seized from the NewsClick premises and homes of employees, without any adherence to due process such as the provision of seizure memos, hash values of the seized data, or even copies of the data. NewsClick’s office has also been sealed in a blatant attempt at preventing them from continuing their reporting.

These actions against the website are not new — it has been under the scrutiny of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Income-Tax Department since 2021, with seizures of electronic equipment, but no charge sheet was ever filed against it. The Delhi High Court, finding a prime facie case in favour of NewsClick, granted interim protection to Mr Purkayastha from arrest and also deterred the ED from taking coercive action against the organisation. A lower court had dismissed a complaint filed by the Income-Tax department on a similar matter.

No government can or should so brazenly target journalists solely based on suspicion and thereby undermine the freedom of expression, which is guaranteed under the Constitution. Mr Purkayastha was arrested and kept in jail during the Emergency in 1975 under the draconian Maintenance of Internal Security Act, on trumped up charges, when he was a student-activist at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Today, history seems to be repeating!.

The FIR registered by the Delhi Police against Prabir Purkayastha, the founder of NewsClick, and others is of sweeping accusations that do not actually disclose any offence, leave alone one of terrorism. Without citing any published content, the FIR alleges offences that range from hatching a conspiracy to undermine the country’s security to disrupting the 2019 parliamentary polls, from causing disaffection against the government to disrupting essential services. It invokes provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and penal provisions relating to conspiracy and promoting enmity between different groups. Quite notably, it does not mention any overt act that may be described as unlawful activity or a terrorist act. There is a general description that foreign funds were infused illegally into India by forces inimical to the country with the objective of causing disaffection against the government, disrupting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India, and threatening its unity and security. It refers to a ‘conspiracy’ based on purported email exchanges to show Arunachal Pradesh and Kashmir as “not part of India”, and also moves to protract the farmers’ agitation of 2020-21 and thereby disrupt supply of services and other essential supplies.

Overall, it is quite clear that the police are combining the remittances by American businessman Neville Roy Singham in NewsClickwith its journalistic content to build a case that “Chinese” funds are being used for propaganda, fomenting unlawful activities, and undermining the country’s security. The resort to UAPA is to send out a chilling message to the wider media fraternity.

The Patiala House Court has on Oct 10 sent NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha and website’s Human Resources head Amit Chakraborty to 10 days judicial custody in the UAPA case registered against them by Delhi Police

Many leading personalities and journalists have registered their dissent over misuse of draconian laws reminding of undeclared emergency era.

This is nothing but an attempt to shut down and stifle independent and fearless voices that portray the story of the real India – of peasants, of labourers, of farmers, and other oft-ignored sections of society, says a press statement.

The four pillars, namely, Judiciary, Executive, Legislature and Media are to be strengthened for a robust democracy. By stifling the voices of Press, more particularly the dissent voices and those voices that speak truth to the power we are undermining the democratic values.

Will the government of the day take a relook into the whole issue and ensure justice and freedom of press?

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