October 3, 2023

Indian police launch raids on journalists, activists

Indian police launch raids on journalists, activists

Indian police raided the homes of at least eight journalists and activists on Tuesday, local media reported, deepening concerns over a crackdown in a country where media freedom has nosedived.

Those raided are reported to be connected to the English-language news website NewsClick, with Indian authorities filing a case in 2021 alleging the organisation was receiving foreign funding.

The New York Times in August reported that NewsClick was financed by US millionaire Neville Roy Singham, who it said “sprinkled its coverage with Chinese government talking points” — claims Singham rejected.

NewsClick journalist Aritry Das said police “barged into my home” at dawn, questioned her about her reporting and seized her laptop, phone and computer hard disks, she wrote on social media.

Das also said the raid was linked to a case against NewsClick under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), a stringent anti-terror law which makes it virtually impossible to get bail.

The Mumbai Press Club expressed its “deep concern” at the raids in a statement, reporting that “multiple journalists affiliated with NewsClick have been subjected to raids”.

It demanded the police stop “from what is perceived as a targeted harassment campaign against these journalists”.

Also raided in connection to NewsClick was historian and activist Sohail Hashmi.

“From the warrant that they reluctantly showed me, the raid at my residence was related to an investigation into NewsClick,” Hashmi told AFP.

Hashmi had to hand over his laptop, phone and hard disks containing more than a decade of his writing, calling the raid a “combination of intimidation and a crackdown on freedom of press and speech”.

‘Voices of dissent’ 

There was no immediate response from the police, with raids carried out in both the capital New Delhi and Mumbai.

“I don’t need to justify,” India’s minister for information and broadcasting Anurag Thakur told reporters asking about the raids.

“If anyone has committed anything wrong, search agencies are free to carry out investigations,” broadcaster NDTV quoted him as saying.

Press freedom in India has plummeted since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, rights activists and opposition lawmakers say.

Reporters Without Borders warns “press freedom is in crisis” in India. Since 2014, India dropped from 140 to 161 on its rankings of media freedom, including 11 places since last year.

Journalists critical of the government complain of increased harassment, including on social media — where Modi’s ruling party has a powerful presence.

Critics say Modi’s government has sought to pressure rights groups by heavily scrutinising their finances and clamping down on foreign funding.

The Network of Women in Media in India said Tuesday’s “shocking” raids had targeted “prominent voices of dissent”.

Those raided include founding editor Prabir Purkayastha, journalists Aunindyo Chakravarty, Bhasha Singh and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, as well as satirist Sanjay Rajoura and activist Teesta Setalvad, Indian media reported.