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NewsClick: Indian police arrest editor and administrator of independent news site | AP News

NewsClick: Indian police arrest editor and administrator of independent news site | AP News

NEW DELHI (AP) — Police in New Delhi have arrested the editor of a news website and one of its administrators after raiding the homes of journalists working for the site, which has been critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist-led government.

The arrests were made late Tuesday after some journalists associated with NewsClick were detained and their digital devices seized during extensive raids that were part of an investigation into whether it had received funds from China. NewsClick denied any financial misconduct.

Suman Nalwa, a police spokesperson, said the arrests were made under a wide-ranging anti-terrorism law. The government has used the law to stifle dissent and jail activists, journalists and critics of Modi, with some spending years in jail before going to trial. Those arrested are NewsClick’s founder and editor, Prabir Purkayastha, and its human resources chief, Amit Chakravarty.

Nalwa said at least 46 people were questioned during the raids and their devices, including laptops and cellphones, and documents were taken away for examination.

They included current and former employees, freelance contributors and cartoonists.

NewsClick was founded in 2009 and is seen as a rare Indian news outlet willing to criticize Modi. It was also raided by Indian financial enforcement officials in 2021, after which a court blocked the authorities from taking any “coercive measures” against the website.

Indian authorities brought a case against the site and its journalists on Aug. 17, weeks after a New York Times report alleged that it had received funds from an American millionaire who had funded the spread of “Chinese propaganda.”

Security officers carry boxes of material confiscated after a raid at the office of NewsClick in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023. Indian police raided the offices of the news website that's under investigation for allegedly receiving funds from China, as well as the homes of several of its journalists, in what critics described as an attack on one of India's few remaining independent news outlets. (AP Photo/Dinesh Joshi)

Security officers carry boxes of material confiscated after a raid at the office of NewsClick in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Dinesh Joshi)

That same month, India’s junior minister for information and broadcasting, Anurag Thakur, accused NewsClick of spreading an “anti-India agenda,” citing the New York Times report, and of working with the opposition Indian National Congress party. Both NewsClick and the Congress party denied the accusations.

Media watchdogs including the Committee to Protect Journalists denounced the arrests and raids and said they were part of an intensifying crackdown on independent media under Modi.

“This is the latest attack on press freedom in India. We urge the Indian government to immediately cease these actions, as journalists must be allowed to work without fear of intimidation or reprisal,” Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, said in a statement.

The Editors Guild of India said it was worried that the intention of raids was to “create a general atmosphere of intimidation under the shadow of draconian laws.”

In February, authorities searched the BBC’s New Delhi and Mumbai offices over accusations of tax evasion a few days after it broadcast a documentary in Britain that examined Modi’s role in anti-Muslim riots in 2002.

A number of other news organizations have also been investigated for financial impropriety under Modi’s government. Independent media in India battle censorship and harassment and often face arrests while doing their work.

India’s anti-terrorism law has stringent requirements for bail, which mean individuals often spend months, sometimes years, in custody without being found guilty. Successive Indian governments have invoked the law, but it has been used with increasing frequency in recent years.

Reporters Without Borders, an advocacy group for journalists, ranked India 161st in its press freedom rankings this year, writing that the situation has deteriorated from “problematic” to “very bad.”

Some independent Indian think tanks and international groups such as Amnesty International and Oxfam India have also been raided and had their access to funding blocked in recent years.

Journalist Abhisar Sharma, whose house was raided and his electronic devices seized on Tuesday, said he won’t back down from doing his job.

“Nothing to fear,” Sharma wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “And I will keep questioning people in power and particularly those who are afraid of simple questions.”

The raids against NewsClick also drew criticism from India’s political opposition.

“These are not the actions of a “mother of democracy” but of an insecure and autocratic state,” opposition lawmaker Shashi Tharoor wrote on X. “The government has disgraced itself and our democracy today.”