Indian police have raided the office of a news portal and the homes of journalists and writers linked to it as part of an investigation into suspected illegal foreign funding of the media company, according to two government officials.
Laptops and mobile phones were taken away as part of the investigation into the media company, NewsClick, the officials and some of the journalists said on Tuesday.
“A special investigations team launched a search operation to identify all those individuals who were possibly getting funds from overseas to run a media group with the main agenda of spreading foreign propaganda,” said an official in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) overseeing the raids by the Delhi Police.
Indian authorities registered a case against the site and its journalists on August 17, weeks after a New York Times report alleged that the website had received funds from an American millionaire who, the Times wrote, funded the spread of “Chinese propaganda”. NewsClick has denied the charges.
The raids were part of an investigation by the Enforcement Directorate, India’s financial crime control agency, into suspected money laundering by NewsClick, the official said.
Another MHA official said the raids were conducted at more than a dozen homes of journalists and some other writers linked to NewsClick.
“We have not arrested anyone and the search operations are still under way,” the second official said.
Both the officials declined to be identified as they were not authorised to speak to the media. A Delhi Police spokesperson said he was not in a “position to comment, as of now”.
NewsClick officials were not immediately available for comment. The company’s website says it reports on news from India and elsewhere with a focus on “progressive movements”.
NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha said at the time the allegations were not new and that the organisation would respond to them in court.
The Press Club of India said it was deeply concerned by the raids.
A statement from the INDIA alliance, a coalition of 28 opposition political parties, said in the last nine years, the government has deliberately persecuted and suppressed the media by using different investigative agencies.
“Even if you were … to believe these allegations at worst you could have targeted the management of the website, but what we are seeing now is that even junior employees are getting raided, even contributors are getting raided,” Shoaib Daniyal, political editor at the Scroll news website, told Al Jazeera.
“India has an extremely draconian terror law regime where people can be arrested and locked away for years without trial,” he added.
A spokesperson from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said raids were justified as foreign funding to media groups must be assessed by investigating agencies.
The country has fallen to 161st in the World Press Freedom Index, an annual ranking by non-profit Reporters Without Borders, from 150th last year, its lowest ever. Modi’s government rejects the group’s rankings, questioning its methodology, and says India has a vibrant and free press.
Ties between India and China have been strained since 2020, when clashes between the two neighbours’ militaries in a disputed border area killed at least 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese servicemen.
Since then, New Delhi has banned many Chinese-owned apps, including TikTok, and launched tax investigations into some Chinese mobile phone companies.__Al Jazeera