Police have raided the homes of several prominent journalists and authors in Delhi, the Indian capital, in connection with an investigation into the funding of news website NewsClick.
On Tuesday morning, the police reportedly seized mobile phones and laptops of those they raided, as officials continue to investigate allegations that NewsClick got illegal funds from China – a charge it denies.
A BBC report says the co-ordinated raids which was said to have occured at 30 locations on Tuesday, is the largest and most extensive on India’s media in recent years.
Opposition leaders called it the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s “fresh attack on the media”, while critics describe the move as an intentional attack on press freedom.
The Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur however, denied any involvement of the government in the raid, saying that the investigative agencies were only doing their job.
NewsClick, an independent news and current affairs website notable for being critical of the government, started in 2009, and was raided by tax authorities on allegations of breaking India’s foreign direct investment rules in 2021.
Reports linked the raids to a case registered against NewsClick in August after a New York Times report alleged that the website had received funds from an American millionaire and socialist benefactor of far-left causes, Neville Roy Singham, to spread “Chinese propaganda”.
It claimed that Neville Roy Singham worked closely with the “Chinese government media machine” and used his network of non-profit groups and shell companies to “finance its propaganda worldwide”.
A case was reportedly registered against the website under UAPA, a draconian anti-terror law which makes getting bail difficult. Though NewsClick rejected all the charges as false.
In a joint statement, the National Alliance of Journalists and Delhi Union of Journalists accused the government of targeting NewsClick for “their coverage of the issues of workers and farmers”.
The Press Club of India also expressed concerned” and urged the government to “come out with details”.
It could be recalled that the President of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Jodie Ginsberg had earlier stated that since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, there has been an increasing crackdown on India’s media, as journalists critical of the Indian government and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been jailed, harassed and surveilled.
Reporters Without Borders, in it’s compilation, said India has slipped in rank from 140 to 150 in the World Press Freedom Index of 180 countries, since Modi became prime minister, raising fears about press freedom in the world’s largest democracy.