A day after the Delhi Police action against the NewsClick portal, several prominent press organisations have written to Chief Justice Of India DY Chandrachud, seeking evolved guidelines for the interrogation of journalists and for seizures from them.
“India’s freedoms will be safe as long as journalists can speak truth to power, without being chilled by a threat of reprisal,” the press bodies said.
The press bodies cited the instance of raids conducted on October 3 on the homes of 46 employees of NewsClick.
The letter alleged that the country’s “investigating agencies have been misused and weaponised against the press”.
Frame norms “to discourage the seizure of journalists’ phones and laptops on a whim, as has been the case”, read the letter which also demanded to ensure that investigations are not undertaken as “fishing expeditions with no bearing to actual offences and finding ways to ensure the accountability of state agencies”.
“As journalists and news professionals, we are always ready and willing to cooperate with any bona fide investigation. However, ad hoc, sweeping seizures and interrogations surely cannot be considered acceptable in any democratic country, let alone one that has begun advertising itself as the ‘mother of democracy,” it said.
The letter has been signed by 15 organisations, including the Digipub News India Foundation, Indian Women’s Press Corps, and the Press Club of India.
The letter also flagged that a large section of journalists in India are “working under the threat of reprisal”.
It demanded the judiciary to “confront power with a fundamental truth – that there is a Constitution to which we are all answerable”.
“Subjecting journalists to a concentrated criminal process because the government disapproves of their coverage of national and international affairs is an attempt to chill the press by the threat of reprisal-the very ingredient you identified as a threat to freedom,” the letter read.
“We do not say that journalists are above the law. We are not and do not wish to be. However, intimidation of the media affects the democratic fabric of society,” it said.
NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha and human resources head Amit Chakravarty, arrested in a case filed under anti-terror law UAPA, have been sent to police custody for seven days.
Citing the case of Siddique Kappan – who was in jail for more than two years before securing bail – the letter demanded “a wide immunity against coercion must be read into the constitutional provisions of free speech, and methods must be devised against police overreach – especially given the repeated misuse of these powers”.
“Far too much is at stake to test every case at the end of a trial which can last years. Journalists arrested under UAPA can end up spending months if not years,” it said.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has justified the police action against NewsClick, saying those involved in anti-India activities will face the strictest action as people have given the mandate to the Narendra Modi government to deal firmly with such elements.
Police have sealed NewsClick’s office in Delhi. Forty-six suspects were questioned and digital devices, including laptops and mobile phones, besides documents taken away for examination.