More than 35 journalists were questioned over a UAPA case against the news outfit.
The houses of several former employees were also searched, Newslaundry has learnt. Several of these journalists said that their electronic devices and documents such as passbooks, posters, books and passports were also seized. These journalists were not provided a copy of the FIR, they claimed.
“They showed me a search warrant, which was not in my name, but of course it was related to the UAPA case. They checked everything, from my gadgets to educational documents, and later seized my laptop, phone, passbooks and documents related to property,” a former NewsClick journalist alleged.
“They asked me if I wrote anything about Delhi riots. When I said no, they pushed me again, asking me to recall if I had posted anything on Facebook. Their other questions included my views on the current government, if I believed Arvind Kejriwal is better, what my view on the Congress is, etc,” alleged a NewsClick employee whose house had been searched in the morning.
Senior journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, who was allowed to leave the police station after nearly 10 hours, told the media that he was asked about similar subjects – whether he had covered the Delhi riots and farmer protests.
Some of the journalists left the special cell’s office after 3 pm. Aunindyo Chakravorty, Urmilesh, Abhishar Sharma, Paranjay Guha Thakurta and a few others were also allowed to leave subsequently.
“They have even called people who have no connection with NewsClick. People who had left the organisation years back have also been called or their homes searched and devices were seized. They have literally called everyone,” a consultant with NewsClick claimed.
Labour historian Dilip Simeon, who had never worked with NewsClick, was also called to the special cell’s office and was told to leave around 3 pm once he made it clear that he had nothing to do with the organisation.
Many journalists whose gadgets have been seized alleged that no seizure memo was given to them during or after the raid. “Neither did I get summons nor did they give me a seizure memo. There has been no proper documentation so far,” the consultant quoted above claimed.
At least three journalists claimed that they were not provided with a seizure memo. “When I asked about the seizure list, they said you will get it soon. But If you want to inquire about your gadgets, you can come tomorrow or day after. When we want you, we will come to you,” alleged a NewsClick staffer.
The Information Technology Act of 2000 lays down that the hash value of confiscated electronic evidence must be taken before 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.
A lawyer present outside the special cell’s office said that providing a copy of the FIR, seizure list and its hash value are standard legal practices. “It is an abuse of the legal process. Everyone has the right to know why the device has been taken. So, the police should give a copy of the FIR.”
Lawyers began to assemble outside the special cell’s office by 10 am, but none of them were allowed to meet their clients despite multiple requests, leading to arguments with the police. Police officials, meanwhile, were seen bringing laptops, printers and other seized gadgets to the office.
Following the police action, Union minister Anurag Thakur told the media that the agencies are free to probe any wrongdoing. “I don’t need to justify... If anyone has committed anything wrong, search agencies are free to carry out investigations against them under set guidelines.”
NewsClick earlier termed all the allegations against it as “false and misleading”, “unfounded and without basis in fact or law”. Multiple press groups said the allegations are “unwarranted and condemnable”. The media house had been the target of a raid by the Enforcement Directorate in 2021.
On Tuesday, several press bodies condemned the Delhi police’s UAPA case against NewsClick and its search of journalists’ houses this morning. Digipub News India Foundation said it was “deeply concerned” and called the developments “another instance of the government’s pattern of arbitrary and intimidatory behaviour”. The Editors Guild said the investigation of specific offences “must not create a general atmosphere of intimidation under the shadow of draconian laws, or impinge on the freedom of expression and the raising of dissenting and critical voices”.
Update at 7 pm, Oct 5: This report had erroneously quoted one Gaurav Yadav as Urmilesh’s lawyer. Yadav had told the media that lawyers were not allowed to meet their clients at the special cell’s office. Urmilesh has now clarified that Yadav is not his lawyer. This has been corrected.
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