Police Raids on NewsClick: Journalist Fraternity Calls for Sustained Agitation to Defend Independent Media


The journalist fraternity stressed that the mere “symbolic protest like this” would not suffice, and instead called for a “sustained agitation” to protect and promote free voice.

Abdul Bari Masoud | Clarion India

NEW DELHI — Following raids on NewsClick offices and journalists associated with the news portal, several journalist bodies gathered at Press Club of India (PCI) here to condemn the crackdown on “freedom of the press” while underscoring the need for a sustained fight to preserve democracy.

After a day-long crackdown, the Special Cell of Delhi Police on Tuesday arrested the news portal’s founder and editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha and the head of its human resource department Amit Chakravarty. The police conducted searches at over 50 locations linked to the news portal, its employees and contributors. Laptops and mobile phones of dozens of individuals were taken away as part of the probe, according to sources. “A special investigations team launched a search operation to identify all those individuals who were possibly getting funds from overseas to run a media group with the main agenda of spreading foreign propaganda,” said a home ministry official who oversaw the raids. 

The journalists assembled at PCI denounced the raids calling it a “direct assault” on democracy and sought the Supreme Court of India to step in to address the situation.

The journalist fraternity stressed that the mere “symbolic protest like this” would not suffice, and instead called for a “sustained agitation” to protect and promote free voice.

Over a hundred journalists, who gathered at short notice, appeared firm in their determination to continue the fight, stating that the Modi government is using central agencies to stifle, intimidate, and harass media outlets which are critical to its policies.

Over the course of the last nine years, the government used its “tactics of intimidation” against several news organisations and journalists, including the BBC, Newslaundry, Dainik Bhaskar, Bharat Samachar, the Kashmir Walla, The Wire, and others.  They unequivocally declared that the restrictions on media under the Modi government are worse than those imposed during emergency rule in the late 1970s.

It is to be noted that in the early morning raids, video journalist Abhisar Sharma, senior journalist Bhasha Singh, veteran journalists Urmilesh and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, NewsClick editor Prabir Purkayastha and writer Githa Hariharan, renowned journalist and commentator on political economy Aunindyo Chakravarty, activist and historian Sohail Hashmi, and satirist and stand-up comic Sanjay Rajaura were targeted. The homes of past and present Newsclick journalists, contributors, and employees were also targeted in the raids. Others included Satyam Tiwari and former NewsClick managing editor Pranjal.

Talking to Clarion India, founding editor of The Wire Siddharth Varadarajan, who also addressed the meeting, said that the police action was not specifically targeting any particular institution or individual. Instead, it was an attack on the freedom of the press and a direct attack on democracy. He stated that the Modi government is using such tactics to send a message to journalists that any attempt at independent journalism will be met with harassment and intimidation.  He added that many journalists experienced harassment to the point that they eventually decided to quit their profession. “We at The Wire are constantly facing harassment from the Modi regime, with dozens of cases being on us,” he said.

He further pointed out that the raids could be a ploy to divert attention from the caste census released by the Bihar government. “Don’t forget, Modi is a great event manager,” he said.

Dr. John Dayal, a veteran journalist and author, told Clarion India: “It is an assault on the fundamental right to free expression”. In the initial days, there was some harsh censorship but afterwards it was eased down, he said. He further added that such an action—raiding and intimidating almost all the employees in a media organization—is unheard of in a democracy. When asked about whether PM Modi has coined the term ‘mother democracy mother,’ he dismissed it as mere ‘bakwas’ and stated that it does not deserve any further comment. Echoing his view, senior journalist SN Sinha said that such attacks are similar to an emergency.

Ms T.K. Rajalakshmi, who has been with The Frontline (fortnightly) for over two decades, condemned the crackdown and sought the intervention of the Chief Justice of India. He suggested that the journalists would have to resist the Modi government’s efforts to suppress the dissent by launching a campaign to protect “freedom of expression.”

The National Alliance of Journalists, the Delhi Union of Journalists, and the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (Delhi Unit) also condemned the raids. These associations said in a statement: “The raids are to divert public attention from burning livelihood issues. Unfortunately, journalists are being targeted for furthering the political agenda of the ruling party. We condemn this with the strongest possible words. We will stand with these journalists in this matter. We urge the Center to immediately stop this attack on press freedom. We urge the media fraternity to protest against this witch hunt by the government.”

Several political parties of the opposition INDIA have publicly denounced the police action. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) said such a large-scale authoritarian assault against media organisations and journalists is “totally unacceptable”. It called upon all Indian democratic-minded patriots to rise in unison to protest against such a “systematic conspiracy to target, persecute, and suppress the media that is meant to be the conscience keeper”.

The management of Newsclick strongly asserted that all the cash they have received came from lawful sources, and they have provided evidence to substantiate this claim before the Delhi High Court.


Photo: Sidharth Vardharajan speaking at protest meeting at Press Club of India.


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