India: Modi government raids independent media, arrests journalists in latest crackdown on dissent

October 9, 2023
Freedom of speech protest
Members of the All India Students Association protesting the Indian government's attack on free speech. Photo:

The police crackdown on independent media platform NewsClick in India, on October 3, is the latest attempt by the Narendra Modi government to stifle journalists and critics of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime.

Police arrested NewsClick editor Prabir Purkayastha and at least 44 other journalists and staff, under the country’s anti-terror laws, confiscating phones and laptops. The draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) gives police powers to arrest people without evidence.

The Modi government claims that NewsClick accepts money from China and publishes Chinese propaganda, but in reality this is an attack on press freedom.

NewsClick was founded in 2009 and has been critical of the BJP and Modi’s government. It was previously raided in 2021 over allegations of contravening foreign investment laws.

NewsClick released a statement on the day of the raids rejecting the allegations. “We strongly condemn these actions of a government that refuses to respect journalistic independence, and treats criticism as sedition or ‘anti-national’ propaganda," it said.

NewsClick said that “despite being in possession of all its information, documentation and communications”, the government has “not been able to substantiate any charges against NewsClick”.

It also said the government used “a motivated and bogus article published in the New York Times to invoke the draconian UAPA and attempt to shut down and stifle independent and fearless voices that portray the story of the real India.”

The NYT report, published in August, used NewsClick’s alleged connection to Chinese funding as a pretext to target the independent platform. A NYT spokesperson said: “We would find it deeply troubling and unacceptable if any government were to use our reporting as an excuse to silence journalists.”

The Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation called the raids an “open reflection of the unbridled emergency the country is facing”.

“The Modi-BJP regime is hell bent on suppressing every voice that disagrees with it, expresses dissent and speaks truth to power … and has been using the UAPA to imprison and suppress pro-people and democratic voices … including civil rights activists, lawyers, writers and journalists...

“These raids have come after the government and the BJP MPs' dogwhistling against NewsClick in the Parliament.

“Independent media platforms like NewsClick have been in the forefront in covering the people’s movement and struggles, including the historic farmers movement, Shaheen Bagh movement and working class strikes.”

Protests were held across India after the arrests, calling for freedom of speech and against the crackdown on journalists and protesters. Author and activist Arundhati Roy, who attended one of the protests, said the UAPA had been amended to define intellectuals, writers and journalists as terrorists — a reference to the 2019 amendment of the UAPA that allows the government to designate individuals as terrorists without following any formal judicial process.

The All India Students’ Association said: “We must stand united against such raids and attacks against journalists which are being repeatedly carried out.

“India has seen a sharp decline in freedom of press, which is a marker of the practice of democracy in the country.”

Amnesty International India spokesperson Aakar Patel said the raids were “the latest attempts by the Indian government to decimate independent and critical media”.

“Journalism is not a crime. The Indian authorities must respect, protect, promote and fulfill the human rights of everyone, including freedom of expression and association.”

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.