NewsClick has consistently denied charges of financial misconduct. Its defenders have criticized the persistent government scrutiny it faced as motivated, at least partly, by a desire to squash a critical voice. Investigators did not only interrogate NewsClick journalists on Tuesday but cast a broader net, targeting a long list of the publication’s former employees, freelance contributors and even friends of staff members.
As of Tuesday afternoon, it was not clear how many people associated with NewsClick were impacted — many had surrendered their electronic devices and were incommunicado — but the number was widely believed to be at least a dozen.
“The investigation of specific offenses 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,” the Editors Guild of India said in a statement.
The Delhi Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Founded in 2009, the scrappy news organization highlights stories of social injustices and discontent against the government. Much of its content are video commentaries broadcast on YouTube and other social media platforms in both English and Hindi.
The raids on Tuesday are only the latest action against journalists in India, where press freedom has shrunk dramatically. In 2023, the country was ranked 161 out of 180 places in the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.
Independent media outlets in India battle censorship, harassment, face arrests and economic pressures to do their work. Indian authorities have increasingly alleged financial impropriety to carry out raids against media outlets critical of the government. International news organizations have been swept up as well.
In February, authorities raided and seized phones of BBC journalists over alleged tax evasion weeks after the organization aired a documentary critical of Modi’s handling of 2002 riots in his home state of Gujarat. The country’s leading Hindi newspaper Dainik Bhaskar was raided by tax authorities in 2021 in the wake of a critical series of reports challenging the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, highlighting dead bodies floating in the river Ganges.
Those detained for questioning on Tuesday included several prominent Indian journalists. Prabir Purkayastha, the editor in chief of NewsClick was taken away by police officials from his office, video from social media showed.
Some described the seizure of their electronic devices.
“Delhi police landed at my home. Taking away my laptop and Phone …” another well-known journalist who has hosted video shows on NewsClick, Abhisar Sharma, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
“Finally [the] last tweet from this phone. Delhi police [has seized] my phone,” Bhasha Singh, another reporter who has written for NewsClick said in a tweet.
Others swept up in the crackdown include satirist Sanjay Rajoura. The police reached Rajoura’s home between 6:30 and 7 a.m. and took him away for interrogation soon after, his lawyer Ilin Saraswat told The Washington Post.
Rajoura’s iPhone, laptop, several DVDs and some documents were seized by the police, Saraswat said, adding that he was being questioned over his previous work for NewsClick. Rajoura last worked for NewsClick nearly two years ago, according to his lawyer.
Historian Sohail Hashmi, who has not written or contributed to the outlet, was among those raided. Hashmi, in his 70s, said he had recently appeared as a guest on two NewsClick programs and is friends with senior journalists at the outlet.
“The idea is to terrorize independent press and attack diverse voices which define democracy,” he said, adding that the police had also seized his electronic devices. He was reached on a family member’s phone.
NewsClick has previously faced raids from authorities and scrutiny over financial links to China, under the shadow of strained political ties between the two neighbors who share a tense border.
In August, days after the New York Times published an investigation that named NewsClick as among the recipients of funding from Neville Roy Singham, an American tech baron and a Shanghai-based, Chinese Communist Party supporter, the Delhi Police filed a case against NewsClick under the anti-terror law, The Indian Express reported.
At the time, NewsClick issued a statement denying it was “a mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China” and said it always adhered to Indian law.
Indian opposition parties condemned the raids, calling it an attempt to distract from several national controversies facing the ruling BJP.
The Modi government has attempted to “convert the media into a mouthpiece for its partisan and ideological interests” and acted against those who speak truth to power, said INDIA, a coalition of opposition parties.
Late Tuesday, as the organization’s editor fielded police questions, its homepage featured a smattering of urgent national issues: details of a state caste census resisted by the central government, a piece about the government’s attempt to appropriate the nonviolent legacy of Mohandas K. Gandhi and opposition allegations about opaque political funding to the ruling party.
Gupta reported from New Delhi.