By Rupam Jain
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian police expanded on Thursday an investigation into suspected illegal foreign funding of a news portal, accusing it in court of having sought to create an incorrect map of the country and also sabotage general elections in 2019.
An official of the home (interior) ministry said Delhi police began questioning nine journalists and social activists linked to the portal NewsClick, including six people first questioned on Tuesday.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
The comment came after Tuesday’s police raids on the New Delhi office of the English-language news site and the homes of journalists and writers, followed by the arrests of its founder and a senior administrative officer.
A lawyer for NewsClick could not immediately be reached for comment. In a statement on Wednesday, the media company said it does not publish propaganda and its funding had been received through appropriate banking channels.
Police told a court on Wednesday they sought custody of the two officials because NewsClick emails accessed by investigators showed them, and the firm’s American billionaire funder, Neville Roy Singham, “discussing how to create a map of India without Kashmir and to show Arunachal Pradesh as disputed area”.
The disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir is split among China, India and Pakistan, while Beijing considers India’s eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh to be part of southern Tibet.
New Delhi says both regions are integral parts of India and depicting them incorrectly on maps is punishable by law.
Police also told the court that NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha conspired with a little-known group to “sabotage the electoral process during 2019 general elections”, but gave no details.
In its statement of Wednesday, NewsClick added that it had been accused of crimes under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for purportedly carrying Chinese propaganda on its website.
A day earlier, officials said the investigation followed a New York Times report in August that identified NewsClick as part of a global network receiving funds from Singham, allegedly to publish Chinese propaganda.
Media groups and the opposition have criticised the Indian government action.
“Authorities must stop targeting independent media and immediately release any journalists detained on trumped-up or politically motivated charges and solely for their critical reporting,” rights group Amnesty International said on Wednesday.
Anurag Thakur, India’s minister for information and broadcasting, has said its investigating agencies are independent and take action “if someone has committed any wrong”.
(Additional reporting by Krishn Kaushik; Editing by YP Rajesh and Clarence Fernandez)