NewsClick case: Purkayastha, Chakravarty sent to 10 days' judicial custody

The decision was opposed by lawyers of the accused who said that journalism cannot be considered as an act of terrorism while Delhi Police said they do not want custody

NewsClick founder-editor Prabir Purkayastha (photo: NewsClick/Facebook)
NewsClick founder-editor Prabir Purkayastha (photo: NewsClick/Facebook)

Ashlin Mathew

The Delhi Patiala court decided to send Newsclick founder-editor Prabir Purkayastha and HR head Amit Chakravarty to judicial custody for 10 days in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) case — despite opposition from the lawyers of the duo, who said that journalism cannot be considered as an act of terrorism.

Both Purkayastha and Chakraborty were arrested by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police on 3 October, based on allegations that the news portal received funds from China for Chinese propaganda. They were produced in court on Tuesday, 10 October, since they ahd already completed five days in police custody.

The additional sessions judge (ASJ) of Patiala House Court Hardeep Kaur passed the order after the Delhi Police informed the court that The Delhi Police said they do not want to keep custody of the two petitioners.

Additional public prosecutor Atul Srivastava submitted that they were seeking judicial custody for both of them as there was no need to keep them in police custody for questioning.

Advocate Arshdeep Singh, who appeared for Purkayastha, opposed the need for judicial custody, while contending that there is no criminal offence recorded in the FIR registered by the Delhi Police.

“There is no allegation that they've used any bomb or dynamite or any explosive device, nor is there any allegation of criminal offence. There has been no kidnapping or abduction,” said Singh, while pointing out that section 13 and 16 of the Indian Penal Code and the UAPA need a ‘terrorist act’ to have been committed.

“So, by having journalism as a profession, how I can commit these offences? A journalist cannot be punished for being critical of a government. UAPA is not a restriction on Article 19(1)(a). You can't be imposing these draconian laws on journalists,” added Singh.

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression to all its citizens.

Countering the argument, Srivastava said that the purpose of NewsClick was not to criticise the government but to spread propaganda of a country which is inimical to India.

Additionally, Purkayastha’s lawyer pointed out that the arrest is illegal because the grounds for their arrest were not communicated to the two persons. He added that the case is currently in the Delhi High Court.

“There have been multiple investigations in this case. All of them have been examined by the Delhi Police, Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax Department. This arrest was made to circumvent the Delhi High Court’s protection,” said Singh.

In July 2021, the Delhi High Court had directed that no coercive action should be taken by the ED against Purkayastha in connection with a money-laundering case, subject to his joining the investigation. The court had then recorded that the ED had not provided the Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) to the accused.

In August 2023, ED had moved the Delhi High Court seeking to vacate its order that granted Purkayastha interim protection from coercive action.

During today's hearing, Singh said that all that Purkayastha had written and said was in the public domain. “What is alleged in this FIR? No offence is made. All allegations are ill-founded,” added Singh.

Purkayastha’s lawyer questioned how his association with Gautam Navlakha, who has also been charged with UAPA and is under house arrest, has become criminal.

“He was a journalist and Purkayastha has known him. He has known him since 1991. Now suddenly you say because of this association, Purkayastha is also involved in terrorism,” said Singh.

One of the accusations in the FIR was that NewsClick had reported on the farmers’ agitation.

Singh said that NewsClick had reported on the protest but that cannot attract any of the provisions of UAPA. “NewsClick has made no contribution to the farmers’ protest; it only reported the protests. They are saying funds came from China. Not a penny has come from China,” added Singh.

Chakravarty’s lawyer Rohit Sharma explained that his client held only a 0.1 per cent share in PPK NewsClick, the company which owns NewsClick, and that his name is not mentioned in the FIR as an accused.

He reiterated that Chakravarty was not even a journalist and was not involved in the publication of news on the website.

At the Delhi High Court on Monday, 9 October, a single-judge bench of Justice Tushar Rao Gedela, who was hearing the case, reserved the order.

During the hearing, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Purkayastha, said both the arrest and the remand were illegal because they had not been given the grounds of their arrest. This was in violation of the recent Supreme Court judgment in the Directorate of Enforcement vs Pankaj Bansal (M3M) case.

NewsClick founder-editor Purkayastha and the portal’s administrator Chakravarty were arrested on 3 October under the controversial UAPA, after Delhi Police raided and questioned 46 journalists and writers, most of whom seem to be associated with NewsClick though not all are employees.

The current case purportedly has its roots in an August 2023 report by the New York Times, which claimed that NewsClick was funded by a network linked to US-based tech mogul and millionaire Neville Roy Singham to allegedly promote Chinese propaganda.

The FIR named Purkayastha, activist and Bhima-Koregaon case accused Gautam Navlakha, and Singham, invoking multiple sections of the UAPA (13,16,17,18, 22c) and sections 153A and 120B of the Indian Penal Code. The UAPA sections involve unlawful activity, terrorism, raising funds for terrorism, conspiracy and threatening witnesses, while the IPC sections involve promoting enmity between groups and criminal conspiracy.

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