NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha to be released on bail after arrest ruled illegal

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Police charged Prabir and NewsClick with colluding with foreign powers to sabotage India on the basis of a New York Times “hit piece” published in August 2023 which targeted several other anti-war organizations in the US as well

Prabir Purkayastha outside his home in February 2021 after the first raid by the Enforcement Directorate. Photo: ICF

May 15, 2024 by Peoples Dispatch

The Indian Supreme Court ordered the immediate release of author and journalist Prabir Purkayastha on Wednesday, May 15 terming his arrest by the Delhi Police in October last year, illegal.

The Court questioned the haste with which police executed the NewsClick founder’s arrest, noting that they did not even follow the basic procedures. The court noted that, in complete violation of the principles of natural justice and court’s previous orders, the copy of the remand application to Prabir’s lawyer was given hours after the remand order against him was issued at 6:00 pm on October 4, 2023. The arrest took place after hundreds of officers carried out extensive raids at around 100 different locations across New Delhi on October 3. In this unprecedented mass raid, they detained dozens of people, confiscated dozens of electronic devices and other items, and interrogated past and current employees of NewsClick for hours.

With his arrest ruled illegal, the court ordered Prabir’s immediate release on bail noting a charge sheet has been filed in the case. “Though we would have released him without surety, but since chargesheet has been filed, we release him with surety and bail bond,” the court observed.

The Supreme Court’s hearing of the case concluded on April 30, but it had reserved its verdict at the time, which was pronounced on Wednesday May 15.

As per the Supreme Court order, the condition of the bail would be fixed by the trial court.

77-year-old Prabir has spent more than seven months in jail despite suffering from multiple health conditions. After being given repeated extensions by the court, the Delhi Police finally filed an over 8,000 page chargesheet last month against Prabir and NewsClick leveling charges under the country’s draconian anti-terror Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA)NewsClick has termed the chargesheet “baseless” and concocted.”

Prabir’s arrest was condemned by progressive sections in India and from across the world. They had termed it an assault on media freedom by India’s right-wing government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and have been demanding Prabir’s immediate release.

New York Times’ Hit Job

The progressive independent news outlet has been subject to harassment by different government agencies for years. However, the attacks on NewsClick intensified following the publication of a hit piece in the “paper of record” the New York Times.

The New York Times article had accused NewsClick of being a part of a larger pro-China propaganda machinery funded by the Communist Party of China without providing any substantial evidence. The allegations were rubbished by the NewsClick and other organizations and individuals as a hit job with the intention of maligning their image and providing basis to the state to persecute them.

In India, the piece served exactly that purpose, providing fodder to both corporate media and BJP government officials who went into a frenzy attacking NewsClick, Prabir, and other members of the publication, citing the NYT article.

Just two months after its publication, on October 3, extensive raids were conducted, an FIR was filed by the Delhi police under UAPA, and Prabir was arrested.

NewsClick has consistently vowed to fight the allegations against the organization and Prabir in the courts.

A good day for independent media

The court order was welcomed by progressive groups in India who saluted the judgment of the court and asserted that Prabir’s release is a boost for the free and independent media in the country.

NewsClick wrote in a statement that the court decision marked “A good day for independent media”.

Thomas Issac, former finance minister in Kerala’s Left Front government in a post on X said that the judgment “exposes arbitrariness of police and their scant respect for legal procedures under [prime minister Narendra] Modi.” He also claimed that the judgment “enhances credibility of alternate media that is already playing a seminal role in ongoing [national] elections [in India].”

Asserting that, “in a democracy, a government cannot unleash central agencies against the free press, especially in the absence of due process” and “laws must not be weaponized against journalists, putting their life, liberty and livelihood at risk” a statement by Digipub News India Foundation, urged the government of India “to exercise caution and restraint in its deliberate and regressive war against media houses it doesn’t agree with.”

NewsClick also stated that “the targeting of independent media outfits and journalists that provide coverage of dissent has become a concerning trend in India.” The progressive media outlet said it will continue its legal fight in the case and against this trend through its work.

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