Carrying riot control canes, Indian policeman move in after lawyers attacked membrs of the media outside the city civil court, in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, on 02 March 2012. EPA/FILE/JAGADEESH NV

Crackdown on Indian journalists in suspected Chinese funding probe sparks condemnations

New Delhi, Oct 4 (EFE).- The Indian government came under heavy criticism on Wednesday after the owner of a media house and an employee were arrested in a probe into suspected illegal Chinese propaganda funding.

Prabir Purkayastha, the founder of NewsClick, and its human resources head, Amit Chakravarty, were arrested following police searches at over 100 locations, including journalists’ and employees’ homes. They have been remanded in police custody for seven days.

“Two people were arrested yesterday, and these are the normal procedures that follow an arrest,” a police officer told EFE.

Senior journalist Abhisar Sharma, a contributor with the NewsClick, said he and other journalists were questioned for hours after police raided his house and told him that “they were investigating terror links.”

He said questions were raised about peasant demonstrations, the 2019 protests against the government’s controversial citizenship law, and coverage of religious riots in early 2019.

The raids are linked to several cases of alleged illegal overseas funding for the online outlet.

The police filed the case against NewsClick under a stringent anti-terror law, which may land a suspect in police custody for about two years without a trial.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED), an Indian security agency specializing in investigating economic crimes, and the tax department also carried out raids on the NewsClick offices in 2021.

Purkayastha then accused the authorities of confiscating the phones of dozens of journalists, calling the raids an attempt to stifle freedom of expression in India.

The new raids on Tuesday came after a New York Times report included NewsClick among the media houses that allegedly received funding to disseminate pro-China propaganda financed by American millionaire Neville Roy Singham.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) head Sitaram Yechury condemned the harassment of Indian journalists.

“Clearly, this is yet another instance of how media outlets that speak truth to power are harassed and intimidated,” Yechury said.

The leftist leader said the search was not targeted at the CPI-M office but the police were looking for the son of a party staff who works as a graphics artist at NewsClick.

The arrests and searches of journalists and employees sparked strong protests in the country.

The opposition coalition led by the Indian National Congress said it strongly condemned the Bharatiya Janta Party government’s fresh attack on the media.”

Journalist bodies such as the Press Club of India and the Editors’ Guild of India also condemned the raids.

Several organizations have called for demonstrations in New Delhi to defend freedom of expression in India.

Global rights and journalist bodies have often raised questions about India’s state of press freedom after Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power almost 10 years ago.

India figures at the unenviable 161 spot on the 2023 global press freedom index, 11 down from last year’s place, according to a report by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders released in March. EFE