In a development at a Delhi court on Thursday, NewsClick editor Prabir Purkayastha and the website’s Human Resources (HR) head, Amit Chakraborty, were granted their request to obtain a copy of the first information report (FIR) filed against them under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Despite significant opposition, Additional Sessions Judge (ASJ) Hardeep Kaur ordered the Delhi Police to furnish a copy of the FIR to the accused.
The arrests of Purkayastha and Chakraborty stemmed from a series of raids prompted by allegations published in a New York Times article, suggesting that NewsClick had been involved in promoting Chinese propaganda in exchange for financial incentives. The New York Times report, which surfaced in August, claimed that NewsClick received funding from a network associated with US millionaire Neville Roy Singham for the alleged purpose of supporting Chinese propaganda.
On October 3, Purkayastha and Chakraborty were taken into custody after extensive questioning and searches conducted at various locations. However, they asserted that they had not been provided with either the FIR copy or the remand order, neither of which had been given to them or their legal representatives.
Both individuals were subsequently remanded to seven days of police custody on Wednesday. Later in the day, they approached the Delhi court to request these crucial documents.
The Delhi Police opposed their plea, contending that the case was sensitive and that, in such instances, they had the discretion to withhold the FIR. According to Additional Public Prosecutor (APP) Atul Srivastava, the correct procedure should have been to initially approach the office of the Police Commissioner, who would then establish a committee to address the grievance. If, after this process, the FIR had not been provided, the accused could then approach the court.
APP Atul Srivastava further argued that the two accused had not adhered to the appropriate procedure in this case, asserting, “You cannot directly approach the court. According to established legal principles, you should have first approached the commissioner. This application is premature.”
Advocate Arshdeep Singh, representing Purkayastha, countered by asserting that it was their right to receive a copy of the FIR as a matter of course. Singh argued, “The law is unequivocal in stating that I must be provided with a copy of the FIR as a matter of right. Even if they claim that the matter is sensitive, there is no legal prohibition against it. The FIR is already in the court’s possession, and there is no impediment to providing me with a copy. My legal rights are being violated. We are now on the third day of their arrest.”
Following deliberation of both arguments, the Court ultimately granted the plea.
In addition to the UAPA case, the Delhi Police’s Economic Offences Wing (EOW) is conducting an investigation into NewsClick in a separate matter. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) had also initiated a case against the website based on the EOW FIR. The Delhi High Court had previously issued orders prohibiting both the ED and EOW from taking coercive actions against Purkayastha and NewsClick in connection with these cases.
NewsClick vehemently refuted the allegations against them, asserting their status as an independent website that adheres to the highest professional standards in journalism. The portal categorically denied publishing news or information at the behest of any Chinese entity or authority. They also clarified that they do not receive directives from Neville Roy Singham concerning the content published on their website. Furthermore, NewsClick raised concerns about the motivations behind the actions of the Special Cell of the Delhi Police, citing their line of questioning regarding reporting on the Delhi riots and the farmers’ protests as evidence of malicious intent.