India: Newsclick endures five-day raid for alleged money laundering

Indian news portal Newsclick was the target of a five-day raid by the Department of Revenue of India from February 9 to 14 over allegations of international money laundering. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its Indian affiliate, the Indian Journalists Union (IJU) condemn this overt act of intimidation and harassment against Newsclick.

The Newsclick editor-in-chief and founder, Prabir Purkayastha. Raid at his home  lasted 113 hours. Credit: Prabir Purkayastha via Facebook.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED), the specialised investigation agency under the revenue department, started its raid at eight locations of the digital news portal on February 9 in response to a Delhi Police First Information Report(FIR) alleging Newsclick was involving in a money laundering operation. Police alleged Newsclick received foreign funding of  30 crore (USD 4.1 million) from a now “defunct US company". Raids also targeted six staff members’ residences the same night while Newsclick offices search stretched out over 38 hours. The raid at the home of editor-in-chief and founder, Prabir Purkayastha, lasted 113 hours, ending finally at 1.30 am on February 14. During the raid, ED officials blocked 73-year-old Prakayastha from leaving his house. ED officials are yet to disclose any findings from the raids.

During the raid, ED officials  seized  communication devices of Newclick directors and senior management which impacted their ability to continue regular work. In a statement on February 10, Newsclick said it fully cooperated with officials. It however, claims that the raid was an attempt to silence those who refuse to toe the Indian establishment line.

NewsClick revealed that staff and shareholders whose homes were raided were also questioned about their links to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the recent farmers’ protests and jailed rights activist Gautam Navlakha. Reports suggest the raid was a retaliation for Newclick’s ground reports and analytical videos from the recent farmers’ movement in India.

Such raids are a routine tactic and practice of the Modi government, by which government agencies are used to intimidate journalists and suppress adversarial journalism. The government has a pattern of misusing laws such as sedition and defamation law, the Disaster Management Act, the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), the Information Technology Act, among others to silence the critics and harass dissidents. In October 2018, India’s Income Tax Department also raided the offices of respected news website The Quint.

The IJU secretary General, Sabina Inderjit said: “The raid on Newsclick is just revenge by the government for its critical reports about the ongoing farmer’s agitation. The Indian Journalists Union (IJU) condemns government’s continued onslaught on media for their critical reports. The IJU leaders demand the government to desist from such acts of media right violations.”

The IFJ said: “The IFJ strongly condemn such the misuse of the government agencies and law to intimidate journalists and suppress adversarial journalism on issues reported in the public interest that the government would seek to bury."