NewsClick’s founder Prabir Purkayastha and its HR head Amit Chakravarty have been sent to seven-day police custody following their arrest in a UAPA case against the organisation. However, the Delhi Police Special Cell had initially sought 15-day police custody for the two, alleging that there was electronic evidence suggesting a “conspiracy” against the sovereignty of India.
The police said “secret inputs have been received that foreign funds in crores have been infused illegally in India by Indian and foreign entities inimical to India in pursuance of conspiracy with the intention to disrupt sovereignty and territorial integrity of India, to cause disaffection against India and to threaten the unity, integrity, security of India”.
The remand application was filed in the court of additional sessions judge Hardeep Kaur at the Patiala House Court by special cell ACP Lalit Mohan Negi. It claimed that the Enforcement Directorate had extracted data from several electronic devices during the course of its investigation into a case that was lodged on August 14. And this data in five hard disks contained 4.27 lakh emails from Purkayastha and Chakravarty, it claimed.
The Enforcement Directorate had earlier attached the portal’s assets after initiating a probe into its funding. The action had come after The New York Times was among Chinese propaganda outlets being funded by American tech mogul Neville Roy Singham. Union ministers Anurag Thakur and Rajeev Chandrasekhar had held a press conference on NYT’s report to claim China, the Indian National Congress and NewsClick are part of an “umbilical cord”..
However, the police claimed there was a larger conspiracy that the accused hatched along with Neville Roy Singham “to create disaffection among various sections of society”. In a similar to the one we heard during the Bhima Koregaon case, the police application hints at collusion with “banned terrorist organizations so that unity, integrity, security, and sovereignty of the country can be threatened”. It states:
“The analysis of the e-mails further shows that Neville Roy Singham, Prabir Purkayastha and Amit Chakravarty are in direct touch with each other wherein they were found to be discussing how to create a map of India without Kashmir and to show Arunachal Pradesh as disputed area. To achieve the above objective, the accused persons in the guise of foreign funds received more than Rs 115 crore. In the companies named as PPK Newsclick, GSPAN India, JJ enterprises, Virtunet System.”
The police alleged that the accused made attempts to “discredit” the government’s Covid management. “A false narrative has been propagated to discredit the efforts of the Indian government to contain Covid-19 pandemic.” Several journalists questioned by the police on Wednesday had reportedly claimed that they were asked whether they had covered Covid. Notably, a large section of the media had prominently reported on the governments’ failure to handle the Covid crises at the central and state level.
Meanwhile, the police said it had searched 88 locations in Delhi, and seven locations in other states on Wednesday, and gathered more electronic “evidence”. It said Purkayastha and Chakravarty need to be confronted with all this material and questioned to “unearth the conspiracy”.
The application alleged that fraudulent funds in crores of rupees have been received since April 2018 “by M/S PPK Newsclick Studio Pvt. Ltd through illegal means during a short span of five years from M/s Worldwide Media Holdings LLC, USA and others”.
It also pointed to other journalists whose houses were searched on Wednesday. “It has also been learnt that such illegally routed foreign funds have been siphoned off by Prabir Purkayastha and his associates namely Joseph Raj, Anoop Chakraborty (brother of Amit Chakraborty), Bappaditya Sinha (promoter of Virtunet Systems Pvt Ltd). It is also learnt that aforementioned funds were distributed to Gautam Navlakha, associates of Teesta Setalvad namely Javed Anand, Tamara, Jibran, Urmilesh, Aratrika Halder, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Trina Shankar, Abhisar Sharma, etc.”
Gautam Navlakha, farm protest, Covid
It then pointed to activist Gautam Navlakha, jailed since 2020 in the Koregaon-Bhima case and subsequently put under house arrest.
“That Mr Prabir Purkayastha, Mr Amit Sengupta, Mr Doraiswami Raghunandan, Mr Bappaditya Sinha, Mr Gautam Navlakha, Mrs Geeta Hariharan, Mr Amit Chakravarty and M/S Worldwide Media Holding LLC are shareholders of PPK Newsclick Studio Pvt. Ltd. having its registered office at New Delhi.”
“It is learnt that Gautam Navlakha who is a shareholder in PPK Newsclick Studio Pvt Ltd since its inception in the year 2018, remained involved in anti-Indian and unlawful activities such as actively supporting banned Naxal organisations and having anti-national nexus with Gulam Nabi Fai who is an agent of ISI of Pakistan. It was also learnt that Gautam Navlakha is associated with Prabir Purkayastha since 1991 when they incorporated Sagrik Process Analyst Pvt Ltd.”
The police claimed that “secret inputs also revealed that Prabir Purkayastha, Neville Roy Singham and some other Chinese employees of Neville Roy Singham-owned Shanghai-based Company by the name of StarStream have exchanged mails which expose their intent to show Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as not part of India”.
“Such attempts by these persons reveal their conspiracy to peddle a narrative, both globally and domestically, that Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh are disputed territories. Their attempts to tinker with the northern borders of India and to show Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as not parts of India in maps amount to an act intended towards undermining the unity and territorial integrity of India.”
The police also pointed to an attempt to “protract” the farm protest. “The accused persons have also conspired to disrupt supplies and services essential to the life of community in India and abet damage and destruction of property by protraction of farmers’ protest through such illegal foreign funding.”
“It was learnt that Prabir Purkayastha conspired with a group namely People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS) to sabotage the electoral process during 2019 general elections.”
The PADS is a civil society outfit that was formed at Hindi Bhawan in Delhi in February 2014. However, Shriniwas Rao, its erstwhile convenor, claimed the outfit was only active until 2018. “It came into existence through a conference held at Hindi Bhawan and was supported by people like Shabnam Hashmi, Ram Puniyani, Justice Rajendra Sacchar, writer Dilip Simeon, Harsh Kapoor,Bharat Bhatnagar, Deepak Dholakia, etc. There were 50-60 such personalities who came together to form this platform, and it was confined to promoting democracy and secularism. It was active till 2018, but gradually it became inactive.”
The police also accused NewsClick of using to peddle “false narratives” through “paid news”. “It is also learnt that People’s Dispatch portal, owned and maintained by M/S PPK Newsclick Studio Pvt. Ltd. has been used for intentionally peddling these false narratives through paid news in lieu of crores of rupees of illegally routed foreign funds as part of conspiracy.”
The police also tried to explain how “foreign funds” were “fraudulently infused”.
NewsClick slams bid to ‘stifle fearless voices’
Meanwhile, in a statement issued on Wednesday, NewsClick has hit out at the attempt to “stifle fearless voices”, saying that no agency has been able to establish any offence against the organisation so far despite scrutinising a large amount of evidence over the last two years.
The organisation said it has been “targeted” by several agencies since 2021, including searches by the Enforcement Directorate, the Economic Offences Wing of the Delhi Police and the Income Tax Department. It said all electronic devices have been seized in the past and all emails and communications scrutinised under a “microscope”.
It also said that its bank statements and details of expenditure and funding have been scrutinised from time to time and its staff questioned several times. The organisation said that its founder and editor Prabir Purkayastha has not even been called for questioning in the past few months.
“Yet, in the last two plus years, the Enforcement Directorate has not been able to file a complaint accusing NewsClick of money laundering. The Economic Offences Wing of the Delhi Police has not been able to file a chargesheet against NewsClick for offences under the IPC. The Income Tax Department has not been able to defend its actions before the court of law.”
It said that a government that has not been able to substantiate any charges despite all this information is now using a “bogus article” in the New York Times to invoke the draconian UAPA to “stifle fearless voices” that portray the story of “real India”.
Purkayastha’s lawyers have approached the Patiala House Court in Delhi seeking a copy of the FIR.
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