During a raid this evening on the home of the Wire founder-editor Siddharth Varadarajan, the Delhi police seized his laptop, two mobile phones and an iPad.
Simultaneously, separate police teams seized electronic devices from the homes of Wire cofounder MK Venu and deputy editor Jahnavi Sen in Delhi, and from founding editor Siddharth Bhatia’s home in Mumbai.
This was two days after an against the Wire and its editors on a complaint from BJP IT cell chief Amit Malviya. Malviya’s FIR was over the Wire’s , which the news website first suspended and then revoked after an “internal review”. Malviya, who was the subject of one of their stories, accused the Wire of causing “reputational damage” and the FIR was filed under charges including defamation, forgery and cheating.
Varadarajan, whose home is in BK Dutt Colony, said the team from the Delhi police’s crime branch arrived at 4.10 pm and left around 7 pm.
“We asked the police to share the hash value of the electronic devices,” he said. “We have not been given the hash value. They said they will give it to us later. When we asked when our devices would be returned, they did not say anything.”
The Information Technology Act of 2000 lays down that the hash value of confiscated electronic evidence it’s sent for forensic analysis to ensure that it’s not tampered with. The hash value is unique, much like a fingerprint. It changes if, say, a document or file is planted on the device, allowing the owner to find out if it has been tampered with.
Varadarajan also said he was asked to provide the passwords to two email accounts. He did so.
“We told them there is a lot of material that is not connected to this case,” he added. “The police team served us a notice under section 91 of CrPC. They wanted all of my devices with passwords. After this, they prepared their memos. We also replied to the notice explaining all the points that I have told you.”
At MK Venu’s home, the police team did not provide hash value for the two electronic devices seized there too.
Venu’s lawyer, who was present at the time, told Newslaundry, “Almost four hours after the seizure, no hash value has been given to us. Cloning of devices has to be done in presence of the party concerned to rule out any tampering.” He said the police told him the cloning process will take between 10 and 12 hours.
Varadarajan said, “The attempt to term journalistic mistakes – that a publication acknowledges, retracts and apologises for – into crime should serve as a warning for the entire Indian media.”
When asked why the Wire hasn’t apologised yet to Malviya, Varadarajan said: “We will see it in court.”
Meanwhile, the Wire filed its own police complaint against its researcher Devesh Kumar, accusing him of “fabrication” of documents and “forgery” of evidence used in its now pulled-down Meta stories. The complaint was filed with the crime branch on October 30. Varadarajan said, “Our complaint has not been converted into an FIR. But Malviya’s has been converted into an FIR I think on the same day.”
But what did the Wire accuse Devesh of doing? And where does the truth lie? Read on everything we know so far.
Update on November 1
In a statement released later on Monday, the Wire its editors and staffers “fully cooperated but placed on record that all devices and hard disks were seized without mentioning any hash value”.
The portal said its founding editors and deputy editor cooperated and gave over the devices sought. “We also placed on record our demand for the hash value of the phones, computers and iPads seized and for cloned copies of the devices seized to be kept at a neutral place."
“In spite of this cooperation, The Wire’s office at Bhagat Singh Market in Delhi was also searched and one of our lawyers physically pushed out by the officers at that site. The Crime Branch party then took away the hard disks from the two computers used by our accounts staff, again without mention of any hash value or providing us a cloned copy so that the normal financial work so central to the day-to-day functioning of a media organisation can continue uninterrupted.”
Amit Goel, the DCP of the crime branch, told Newslaundry on November 1 that the hash value will be shared with the Wire “soon”. On why the police have not registered an FIR against Devesh Kumar, Goel said, “We are investigating it and action will be taken against the accused.”
Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists has the raids “an excessive reaction” by the Indian authorities. “The Wire has voluntarily withdrawn its reportage on Meta and Amit Malviya, apologised to its readers, and initiated an internal review. We call on authorities and politicians to cease the harassment,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Frankfurt, Germany.
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