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Intended to harass, intimidate media

The Delhi Police’s action on Tuesday, including early morning raids on dozens of places connected with a news portal, NewsClick, the arrest of its Editor Prabir Purkayastha, and the hours-long detention and questioning of many of its employees, including journalists, is the latest instance of the continuing story of crackdowns on critical media in the country. It was a well-coordinated action in which not only journalists and staff of the portal but also persons who were only remotely linked to it, and human rights activists, were targeted. Electronic devices were taken away, reportedly with no seizure memos or hash values given for the devices. Cases have been registered under the UAPA and sections of the IPC. NewsClick had been raided by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Income Tax authorities in 2021. The agencies have pursued the case against the portal alleging that it received Chinese funds and ran an “anti-India agenda”.

This is the first time that a media organisation has been booked under the draconian UAPA and an Editor has been held as a terrorist. The Economic Offences Wing, the ED and the police have been probing charges against the portal. In 2021, a case was filed on the charge that it had received FDI from a US-based company in violation of laws. There is still no information on what specific charges are there and what the investigation has found out. While such investigations continue and linger on, they become tools for harassment of critics of the government, including the media and journalists. Many journalists of the portal were questioned about their coverage of the 2021 farmers’ protest, Delhi riots, and anti-CAA protests and about their family history, employment record and other personal matters. 

There is disquiet that due process has not been followed in the investigations, arrests and seizures. Most charges are nothing more than the say-so of the police. The law should take its course if there are illegalities, but they have to be brought out in the public domain, especially because media organisations are public institutions. Otherwise, the action against NewsClick must be seen as one more vindictive action of this government against a critic. The government has persistently taken such actions and they are intended to intimidate the media, curb its freedom to speak truth to power and to dissent and criticise. The right to freedom of speech, which is the basis of media freedom, is at the heart of a democracy. Claims of the country being the “mother of democracy” would only have an ironic ring when democratic institutions, including the media, are constantly under pressure to conform and to praise the government and critics are harassed and persecuted.

(Published 06 October 2023, 00:49 IST)

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