India police raid media office, journalists’ homes in illegal funding probe

By Rupam Jain

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -Indian police raided the New Delhi office of a news portal and the homes of journalists and writers linked to it on Tuesday as part of an investigation into suspected illegal foreign funding of the media company, two government officials said.

National daily The Indian Express said late on Tuesday that police had arrested the founder and editor-in-chief of online news portal NewsClick and a journalist working there.

In a post on social media platform X, the daily reported that Prabir Purakayastha and Amit Chakravarty had been arrested.

A spokesperson for the Delhi police and officials in the federal home ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the arrests.

Separately, Delhi police said in a statement they had questioned 37 male suspects at the news portal office and nine female suspects at their homes or at locations linked to the portal. They said the portal’s journalists had been searched.

Earlier in the day, laptops and mobile phones were taken away as part of the investigation, government officials and journalists said.

“A special investigations team launched a search operation to identify all those individuals who were possibly getting funds from overseas to run a media group with the main agenda of spreading foreign propaganda,” said an official in the interior ministry overseeing the police raids.

The raids were part of an investigation by the Enforcement Directorate, India’s financial crime agency, into suspected money laundering by NewsClick, the official said.

Another ministry official said the raids were conducted at the homes of more than a dozen journalists and other writers linked to NewsClick.

Both officials declined to be identified as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

NewsClick officials were not immediately available for comment. The company’s website says it reports on news from India and elsewhere with a focus on “progressive movements”.

Officials said the investigation began after a New York Times report in August named NewsClick as part of a global network receiving funds from American billionaire Neville Roy Singham, allegedly to publish Chinese propaganda.

The United States was aware of concerns over NewsClick’s alleged ties to China, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel said, adding that he could not comment on the veracity of the claims.

“Separately…, the U.S. government strongly supports the robust role of the media globally, including social media, in a vibrant and free democracy, and we raise concerns on these matters with the Indian government, with countries around the world,” Patel told reporters.

NewsClick founder Purkayastha said at the time that the allegations were not new and that the organisation would respond to them in court.

The Press Club of India said it was deeply concerned about the raids.

A statement from the INDIA alliance, a coalition of 28 opposition political parties, said that in the last nine years, the government has deliberately persecuted and suppressed the media by using investigative agencies.

The “coercive” actions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government are “directed against only those media organisations and journalists that speak truth to power”, the coalition said.

A spokesperson for Modi’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the raids were justified as foreign funding to media groups must be assessed by investigating agencies.

India has fallen to 161th in the World Press Freedom Index, an annual ranking by non-profit Reporters Without Borders, from 150th last year, its lowest ever. Modi’s government rejects the group’s findings, questioning its methodology, and says India has a vibrant and free press.

(Editing by YP Rajesh, Robert Birsel, Bernadette Baum, Gareth Jones and Mark Heinrich)