Oppostion slams Delhi police raids on journalists
Opposition leaders say they stand steadfastly with media and call the raids a distraction from the Bihar caste census
The early morning raids by Delhi Police on the homes of 46 journalists, freelance writers, stand-up comics and historians associated with the news portal NewsClick has been condemned by Opposition leaders and rights activists.
The raids were in connection with FIR number 224/2023, filed on 17 August 2023, which invokes several sections (13, 16, 17, 18, and 22) of the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, along with sections 153(a) (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony) and 120(b) (party to a criminal conspiracy other than a criminal conspiracy to commit an offence) of the Indian Penal Code.
Though there was no official statement, the Enforcement Directorate officials reached the homes of video journalist Abhisar Sharma, senior journalist Bhasha Singh, veteran journalist Urmilesh, NewsClick editor Prabir Purkayastha, writer Githa Hariharan, and NewsClick journalists Subodh Varma and Aditi Nigam.
Several were taken in for interrogation; more had their devices collected by way of the investigation.
Subodh Varma, who had been taken away for interrogation was released at 7pm. Devices belonging to Nigam were seized.
National Herald has been able to confirm that the police visited the houses of several NewsClick employees and seized their devices. They also raided the house of historian Sohail Hashmi, who is not related to NewsClick's journalistic operations.
Condemning the raids, the Opposition bloc of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) has released a statement underscoring that they were steadfastly with the media and for constitutionally-protected freedoms of speech and expression.
'The Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) parties strongly condemn the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) government’s fresh attack on the media. We steadfastly stand with the media and for the constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and expression,' the member parties said in a statement.
'In the last nine years, the BJP government has deliberately persecuted and suppressed the media by deploying investigative agencies to suppress.'
'The BJP government has also tried to convert the media into a mouthpiece for its partisan and ideological interests by facilitating the takeover of media organisations by crony capitalists. Both the government and its ideologically aligned organisations have resorted to reprisals against individual journalists who spoke truth to power. Furthermore, the BJP government has also spearheaded regressive policies like the Information Technology Rules 2021 that constrict the media from reporting objectively. In doing so, the BJP is not only hiding its sins of omissions and commission from the people of India. It is also compromising India’s global standing as a mature democracy,' the statement continued.
'Ironically, the BJP government is paralysed when it comes to taking action against those journalists inciting hatred and divisiveness in the nation. In the national interest, it would behove the BJP government to focus on genuine issues of concern to the nation and the people and stop attacking the media to distract from its failures,' said the statement, highlighting that instances of hate speech were being ignored by the government.
The Indian National Congress (INC) on its official X account wrote: “PM Modi is scared, nervous. Especially of those people who question him on his failures. Be it opposition leaders or journalists, those who speak the truth will be harassed. Today again the raid on journalists is proof of this.”
Congress leader Pawan Khera tweeted that the raids were conducted to distract from the publication of the Bihar caste census data.
“The early morning raids on contributing journalists at NewsClick come as fresh distraction from the explosive findings of (the) caste census in Bihar and the growing demand for caste census across the country. When he faces questions from out of syllabus, he resorts to the only counter he has in his predictable syllabus — DISTRACTION,” posted Khera on X.
The politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) issued a statement condemning the raids, calling them an 'authoritarian assault' on the media:
This is a brazen assault on the media and the fundamental right to freedom of expression. During the last nine years the Modi government has deployed investigation agencies to suppress, harass and intimidate various media houses like the BBC, NewsLaundry, Dainik Bhaskar, Bharat Samachar, the Kashmir Walla, the Wire and now raiding all those connected with [NewsClick]. Such a large-scale authoritarian assault against media organisations and journalists who speaks truth to power is totally unacceptable.Politburo, Communist Party of India (Marxist)
Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Manoj Jha questioned the integrity of the Delhi Police, terming the raids the "most unfortunate thing".
“Why are you calling them Delhi Police? They are under HM Amit Shah and nothing takes place without his consent... Those who deny to join their (BJP) 'Bhajan Mandali', they do like this against them,” said Jha in an interview to ANI.
People's Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti described the raids at the residences of NewsClick journalists as a "fishing" expedition.
"GOI claims India is the mother of democracy & about press freedom abroad yet in the same breath uses state agencies to crack down on the remaining handful of independent media outlets.
"Even telephone devices have been forcibly snatched only for a fishing expedition. The repeated illegal pattern of arrest first & creating fake charges later is extremely perturbing," Mufti wrote in a post on X.
Several commentators including the Internet Freedom Foundation’s Apar Gupta noted that the seizure of digital devices is worrying and part of a trend. “Seizure of a journalists’ phone and digital devices is a wider trend that requires reform and safeguards. Important for us to remember earlier this year the raid at the BBC India offices,” he posted.
Advocate Deepak Joshi reacted, saying, “Sweeping seizure of electronic devices of journalists en masse without notices/warrants or presence of forensic teams or sharing of hash values rides roughshod over democratic principles, due process of law & freedom of speech. No other way to describe this act.”
Several journalists’ bodies including the Press Club of India (PCI), Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC), Delhi Union of Journalists, Mumbai Press Club, Editors Guild of India and the Network of Women in Media, India, have registered their support and have called for the release of the journalists who have been detained or arrested.