India Top Court Bails NewsClick Editor Arrested in Chinese Funding Case

India Supreme Court Grants Bail to NewsClick Editor in Chinese Funding Case

Prabir Purkayastha was arrested last year after a New York Times report alleged his outlet was financially backed by a network pushing Chinese propaganda.

India’s Supreme Court has deemed the arrest of NewsClick website’s founder and editor, Prabir Purkayastha, under a stringent antiterrorism law last year as illegal, ordering his release on bail.

Purkayastha was arrested in October, nearly two months following a New York Times report claiming his English-language news website was financially supported by a network promoting Chinese propaganda.

The 75-year-old journalist was charged with receiving foreign funds and criminal conspiracy, arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), a stringent antiterrorism law that makes obtaining bail nearly impossible.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that Purkayastha’s arrest by the Enforcement Directorate, India’s financial crimes agency, was illegal as it did not communicate the grounds for detention to him in writing.

Justices BR Gavai and Sandeep Mehta declared his arrest “invalid in the eyes of the law” and ordered his release, subject to the furnishing of bail bonds.

The court emphasized that its ruling on Purkayastha’s confinement did not comment on the merits of the ongoing case against him.

“A good day for independent media!” said NewsClick in a post on X, celebrating Purkayastha’s release.

NewsClick, which focuses on India’s “progressive movements,” was founded in 2009 by Purkayastha, who was previously arrested in 1975 during a state of emergency imposed by then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Last year, The New York Times reported that NewsClick was financed by U.S.-based millionaire Neville Roy Singham.

The report claimed the website “sprinkled its coverage with Chinese government talking points” – allegations Singham and NewsClick denied.

The report also accused Singham of working closely with China, the common adversary of India and the U.S., and of “financing its propaganda worldwide.”

At the time, NewsClick asserted it does not publish content at the direction of any Chinese entity or authority and does not take instructions from Singham on its coverage.

Relations between New Delhi and Beijing

Relations between New Delhi and Beijing have been strained due to a long-standing border dispute that escalated into a deadly clash between their troops in the Himalayas in 2020, freezing diplomacy between the two nations.

In 2021, ED officials first raided the NewsClick office and Purkayastha’s residence over allegations of money laundering and foreign funding.

During the raid, the news website had extensively reported on massive antigovernment protests by Indian farmers.

No arrests were made during that raid, with authorities stating their investigation against the media outlet would continue.

In October last year, the ED again raided the NewsClick office and the homes of nearly 80 journalists and others associated with the New Delhi-based organization.

Computers and mobile phones of its employees and independent writers were seized.

Indian Journalists

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government defended the raids, asserting that foreign funding of media groups must be investigated.

“If anyone has committed anything wrong, search agencies are free to carry out investigations,” Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur told reporters after the raids.

However, media watchdogs and rights groups argued the raids were part of a government assault on press freedoms since Modi took office in 2014.

He is seeking a third term in the ongoing multiphase national election.

Last year, Indian tax authorities also raided the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai shortly after the British broadcaster released a documentary critical of Modi.

Dozens of Indian journalists critical of the Hindu nationalist government have reported increased harassment, including on social media, where the governing BJP party has a powerful presence.

India fell to 159th rank in the 2024 World Press Freedom Index, an annual ranking by non-profit Reporters Without Borders, a slight improvement from 161 last year.

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