The Delhi Police has levelled a series of strong allegations against NewsClick, whose founder and HR head have been arrested under a stringent anti-terror law. Sources in the force alleged the news portal received Rs 38 crore from entities linked to Chinese individuals and some of its funds were shared with activists Gautam Navlakha and Teesta Setalvad, who are accused in other cases.
Days after a New York Times investigation alleged that the news portal had received money for pro-China propaganda, the police carried out searches at the home of journalists linked to NewsClick at over 100 locations in Delhi-NCR and Mumbai on Tuesday.
Delhi Police sources alleged NewsClick received Rs 38 crore from entities allegedly linked to Chinese individuals and the funds were used to influence pro-China content on the portal. They claimed Rs 9 crore was received as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) through inflating share prices and 29 crore was received as fees for export services.
“No proof was submitted by NewsClick for exporting any services to foreign entities,” a source said.
The sources claimed that some of the funds collected by NewsClick were also shared with Gautam Navlakha and Teesta Setalavad.
Mr Navlakha was arrested in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case in 2018 and has been under arrest since then. In November last year, the Supreme Court had allowed the journalist-activist to be placed under house arrest because of his deteriorating health condition.
Mr Navlakha was among several activists who had been arrested in a case related to alleged inflammatory speeches made at the Elgar Parishad conclave held on December 31, 2017. Police claimed that these speeches triggered violence the next day at a gathering near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial near the city.
Teesta Setalavad was arrested in June 2022 along with former Gujarat police chief RB Sreekumar and former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt for allegedly using her close associates and riot victims to file “false and fabricated affidavits before the Supreme Court with a view to unseat the establishment and to tarnish the image of the establishment and the then chief minister.”
She was granted bail by the Supreme Court in July this year. The bench had questioned the motives and timing of Ms Setalvad’s arrest and said it thought the case against her was suspect.
NewsClick has not reacted to these charges so far.
The sources said 46 individuals associated with NewsClick are under investigation by agencies. “A total of 37 male suspects have been questioned at premises, 9 female suspects have been questioned at their respective places of stay and digital devices, documents etc. have been seized/collected for examination. The proceedings are still ongoing; so far, two accused have been arrested – NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha and HR head Amit Chakravarty,” a source said.
A statement released by the Editors Guild of India said, “EGI is concerned that these raids are yet another attempt to muzzle the media. While we recognise that the law must take its course if actual offences are involved, the due process has to be followed. The investigation of specific offences must not create a general atmosphere of intimidation under the shadow of draconian laws, or impinge on the freedom of expression and the raising of dissenting and critical voices.”
The Opposition parties have slammed the government over the raids. “The Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) parties strongly condemn the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s fresh attack on the media. We steadfastly stand with the media and for the constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and expression,” a joint statement by the bloc said.
The government has, however, said it does not need to justify the agencies’ action. “If anyone has done anything wrong, search agencies are free to carry out investigations against them under set guidelines,” Union Minister Anurag Thakur said.