A supposedly “pro-China” news site funded by an American millionaire is at the center of a debate over press freedom in India after a major raid on Tuesday captured 46 journalists and contributors.
Five hundred officers from the Special Cell of Delhi Police searched more than 100 sites associated with NewsClick, which included publisher Prabir Purkayastha and administrator Amit Chakraborty, among others. Law enforcement agencies confiscated electronic devices and sealed the news agency’s office in New Delhi.
Indian authorities have invoked a tough 1967 anti-terrorism law to make their arrests, although the charges have not yet been made public. Delhi Police said it was investigating links between NewsClick and China-backed anti-government activities.
The United States, whose geostrategic partnership with India has faced a series of tests recently, said it was monitoring developments. “We are aware of these concerns and have seen that this branch’s links to the… have been reported [People’s Republic of China]“But we cannot yet assess the veracity of these claims,” US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said on Tuesday.
The allegations stem from a financial network linked to Shanghai-based US technology tycoon Neville Roy Singham. A New York Times An August report linked the millionaire’s funds to groups such as Code Pink, co-founded by anti-war activist Jodie Evans, who is also Singham’s wife.
The progressive groups promote pro-China views from New York to London by holding rallies and forums, and their arguments reflect Beijing’s denial of rights abuses against its Uyghur Muslim population in Xinjiang as well as its claim to the democratically ruled island of Taiwan. Evans herself is often seen protesting in the halls of the US Capitol.
The report established a working relationship between Singham and Shanghai’s propaganda department, but he denied taking orders from the Chinese government or the ruling Communist Party.
However, an investigation was carried out at the beginning of last year New Lines Magazine had already tied up Singham’s money to Code Pink and other left-wing news and political platforms.
Singham could not be reached for comment.
Indian authorities have raided NewsClick’s offices in the past as part of a money laundering case that the organization said ultimately failed in court. This involved around $10 million that the news site’s parent company had received from two US-based companies with alleged ties to Singham.
Founded in 2009, NewsClick is one of the few Indian media outlets that regularly criticizes Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies. The new charges allege that Singham funded NewsClick to promote pro-China views.
According to Delhi Police court documents, Purkayastha, the founding editor, exchanged emails with Singham and employees of his Chinese company, discussing their intention to show that Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh were not part of India. China claims the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as part of its territory.
Authorities said the anti-terrorism probe was initiated based on “secret inputs” that suggested there was an “intent to disrupt India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to court documents The Hindu.
NewsClick denied the allegations and said the company “does not publish any news or information on behalf of any Chinese organization or authority, either directly or indirectly.”
“NewsClick does not distribute Chinese propaganda on its website,” it said in a statement on Wednesday. “NewsClick does not accept instructions from Neville Roy Singham regarding the content published on its website.”
“News content sharing agreements between Chinese media such as Xinhua and Indian media are an important medium of Chinese disinformation. Such ‘news’ from Chinese media, especially on sensitive issues such as the border dispute and internal unrest in India, feeds into social media cycles and is amplified by bot networks on social media sites,” Kalpit said Mankikar, a China fellow at the Observer Research Foundation think tank in New Delhi.
“Such disinformation then finds traction in political discourse, with the result that national resolve is undermined,” Mankikar said Newsweek.
Historically, media and political narratives in India were believed to have been influenced by Russian propaganda. However, in recent years the amount of Chinese information has increased, while related concerns have been heightened by a deadly outbreak in 2020 on the India-China border in the Himalayas.
Still, serious concerns remain about how far Modi’s government will go to isolate the Indian public while cracking down on democratic principles such as free speech and freedom of the press.
The Editors Guild of India and the Press Club of India, two key organizations representing journalists in India, condemned the detention of NewsClick journalists, as did the Indian National Congress, the country’s main opposition party.
“Why does a government as strong and authoritarian as this one feel threatened by a news website? And that too, a website that doesn’t even rank very high in terms of reach or readership?” Shashi Tharoor, the leader of the opposition, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
In New York City on Tuesday, protesters organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation demonstrated outside the offices of The New York Times In her opinion, the newspaper’s role in triggering the crackdown was crucial. NewsClick’s statement described the August article as “motivated and false.”
“Civil society, shaped by narratives spread by Chinese-funded media, will seek to build strength in parliament and foreign policy discourse to pursue a more China-friendly and fundamentally anti-Western foreign policy, even if that contradicts India’s own national security concerns.” said Sriparna Pathak, assistant professor at OP Jindal University in the Indian state of Haryana.
“NewsClick stories have attempted to promote a China-sympathetic narrative. If the evidence is against the accused, the law will come into force,” Pathak said.
The Chinese Embassy in New Delhi did not respond NewsweekRequest for comments.