‘Reporters given money to distribute among rioters’: In NewsClick chargesheet gems

A part of the chargesheet seems to rely on statements under section 164 of the CrPC to further the claim.

WrittenBy:Prateek Goyal
Article image

Reporters usually have strict deadlines from their editors when they go to protest sites. But if the Delhi Police chargesheet in the UAPA case against NewsClick is to be believed, the outfit’s reporters were allegedly sent to participate in protests, distribute money among protesters, and incite violence against the state.

These allegations first find a mention in point number 16, or “brief facts of the case”, of the 169-page primary chargesheet – or final report form – submitted before the Patiala House Court by the Delhi Police Special Cell. Newslaundry has not reviewed the full document which runs into nearly 7,400 pages. 

But to support the charge that reporters were given money to distribute among protesters to incite violence, the 169 pages contain no corroborative evidence other than statements under section 164 of the CrPC – recorded before a magistrate and admissible in courts – from HR head-turned-approver Amit Chakraborty and two of the eight protected witnesses, named as Gama, Gama 1, Gama 2, Gama 3, Gama 4, Beta, Beta 1, and Beta 2. 

NewsClick has repeatedly denied all the charges against it. Last week, the news portal published a detailed statement rejecting the “absurd, baseless allegations” in the chargesheet. It noted that many media reports on the chargesheet were published without seeking NewsClick’s response.

Purkayastha and Amit Chakraborty were arrested on October 3 last year. This was after The New York Times alleged the news site was among Chinese propaganda outlets funded by American tech mogul Neville Roy Singham. 

The FIR named Purkayastha, activist Gautam Navlakha,and Singham. It invoked multiple sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, involving unlawful activities, terrorism, raising funds for terrorism, conspiracy and threatening witnesses, along with section 153A and 120B of the IPC for promoting enmity between groups and criminal conspiracy. Among other charges, it accused them of fomenting unrest during the anti-CAA and farmers’ protests, and discrediting India’s efforts to manage the Covid pandemic.

‘Money for riots’

Gama, who claimed to be a NewsClick employee, alleged that the news outlet’s founder Prabir Purkayastha used to send his employees to take part in demonstrations, gave them cash to distribute among rioters, and told them to incite Muslims to carry out riots.

Gama 2, meanwhile, alleged that Purkayastha gave funds to OCCRP journalist Anand Mangnale and instructed him to go to Shaheen Bagh in order to hand over the money to Sharjeel Imam – a student activist jailed in cases linked to the citizenship law protests – and his friends to sustain the demonstration. He alleged that the aim was to bring about bloodshed and violence.

Gama 2 named two NewsClick journalists Anusha Paul and Pawan Kulkarni and claimed that they received money to distribute among protesters at Chand Bagh so that weapons could be purchased. Paul and Kulkarni denied the allegations in a conversation with Newslaundry.

Gama 2 also alleged that Purkayastha gave money to Y Kiran Chandra of the Free Software Movement of India to support Naxal violence in Maharashtra, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

Amit Chakraborty also repeated these allegations.

‘Never heard such an absurd thing’

Newslaundry spoke to a few senior journalists about these allegations in the chargesheet.

Gurbir Singh, chairman of the Mumbai Press Club, said, “NewsClick is an organisation which functions fairly professionally. They have a proper editorial team…I am sure at the stage of actual examination such witnesses and their statements won’t stand a chance…There is no evidence to support all this. Asking reporters to incite violence by their editor is totally dubious and far-fetched.”

Pune-based senior journalist Anush Malekar said, “I have never ever heard such an absurd thing in over three decades of my career…Whoever has given these statements or whoever has out of their imagination created this case doesn’t know anything about the inner workings of a newsroom.”

Bhopal-based renowned journalist Shravan Garg said, “Prima facie this seems to be false. Until and unless they have some verifiable proof with credible evidence one should not  level such allegations against any reporter or editor…I’ve never heard any such thing in my career of 50 years.”

Within 4 months, an introduction and multiple meetings

In statements in Hindi, Beta 1 and Beta 2 alleged that they supplied arms to Maoists and collected cash from Gautam Navlakha, who they were introduced to by Maoist commander Narmada Akka after the death of Maoist commander Sainath in April 2018. 

Beta 2 said, “After the death of Naxal Commander Sainath in an encounter in 2018, Narmada Akka took over the command. She introduced me to Gautam Navlakha. I used to supply ammunition to Naxalites and used to collect cash from Navlakha. Whenever I visited Navlakha’s house, I saw two men there identified as Prabir Purkayastha and Amit Chakraborty. When the police showed me their photos I identified them.”

But Gautam Navlakha was arrested in August 2018, just four months after Narmada Akka took over as the commander after Sainath’s death on April 22, 2018.  As per Beta 2’s claim, this implies that the Maoist operating from the forests of Dandakaranya had introduced the witness to Delhi-based Navlakha within these four months. And it was within this period then that Beta 2 also visited Navlakha’s house multiple times.

Narmada Akka was diagnosed with cancer in 2018, and arrested in June 2019 before her death at a hospital in April 2022. 

Narmada Akka’s name had also emerged in the case of Delhi University professor GN Saibaba, who was acquitted of all charges in March this year along with Hem Mishra, Prashant Rahi, Mahesh Tikri and Vijay Tikri.

The ‘conspiracy’

The chargesheet alleged that email conversations between the accused suggested a conspiracy against India.

“To achieve the above objectives of the then crystallising conspiracy, Neville Roy Singham came to India on May 2, 2017. In furtherance of the common conspiracy, he met Prabir Purkayastha and others and discussed further course of action, primarily by way of infusing funds by way of creating off-shore and dependent on-shore companies which would act as a smokescreen for the background anti-State operations apparently at the behest of, or for the benefit of the ultimate paymaster in, the Chinese State,” it claimed.

“We need a strategy that can unite the broadest sections of the people when attacks are directed at what they can say or wrote, wear or eat, or the gods they can worship or not worship. But we also need movements and new movements in the making that are emerging because of the large-scale attacks on citizens’ rights, be they Dalits, Adivasis, minorities, women, or working people.”

The primary chargesheet said the police had requested details from Google and had seized electronic devices belonging to Purkayastha and Chakraborty. It also claimed that the police had verified all the travel details from the foreign registration office linked to the passports of Purkayastha, Chakraborty, Singham and Vijay Prashad, who led a portal linked to NewsClick, to corroborate their meetings.

On his name being part of the chargesheet, Anand Mangnale said, “This is nonsense. NewsClick is a media organisation which focuses on people’s movements, so of course a lot of reporters were at different protests covering them. Delhi Police is painting doing normal jobs as a criminal conspiracy… As a citizen of India, I was against the divisive anti-CAA law and opposed it, and as a consultant with NewsClick, I was helping reporters from the outfit cover different protests.”

“Prabir giving me money to give to Sharjeel Imam and pushing riots and all is not only complete fabrication by the cell but also laughable. It sounds like a third grade crime drama.” 

Newslaundry had earlier reported on how a letter, signed by a group of people in March 2019, urging opposition parties to unite ahead of the general election that year and “undo the most insidious actions of the Modi regime”, became part of the police FIR against NewsClick. The group, which is no longer active, was formed in 2014 to promote democracy and secularism.

Newslaundry has reported on the case against NewsClick from the start. See a timeline of events here and the rest of our reportage here.

We need a free press now more than ever. Here’s why the World Press Freedom Week is a great opportunity to support independent media and power real journalism.


We take comments from subscribers only!  Subscribe now to post comments! 
Already a subscriber?  Login

You may also like