India police search journalists’ homes and offices in the country’s latest raids on media

NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian police raided the offices of a news website that’s under investigation for allegedly receiving funds from China, as well as the homes of several of its journalists, in what critics described as an attack on one of India’s few remaining independent news outlets.

The raids came months after Indian authorities searched the BBC’s New Delhi and Mumbai offices over accusations of tax evasion in February.

NewsClick, founded in 2009, is known as a rare Indian news outlet willing to criticize Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A number of other news organizations have been investigated for financial impropriety under Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, as international monitors warn that press freedom is eroding in India.

Indian authorities registered a case against the site and its journalists on Aug. 17, weeks after a New York Times report alleged that the website had received funds from an American millionaire who, the Times wrote, has funded the spread of “Chinese propaganda.” NewsClick has denied the charges.

An armed security person stands stand guard at the gate of a building housing BBC office in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. India’s tax officials searched BBC offices in India for a second straight day on Wednesday questioning the staff about the organization's business operations in the country, staff members said. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)Indian authorities accuse BBC of tax evasion after searchesA visitor makes an enquiry standing outside the office of The Wire, an independent local news website, in New Delhi, India, Friday, Oct. 28, 2022. Amit Malviya, who is the IT head of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, said he would file civil and criminal charges against The Wire after it reported in a now-retracted story that Meta, the U.S.-based social media giant, granted him extraordinary powers to censor Instagram posts. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)India ruling party official to sue critical news websiteFILE - A statue of Mahatma Gandhi sits between the old and new Parliament House buildings on the opening day of the monsoon session of the Indian parliament, in New Delhi, India, Thursday, July 20, 2023. Indian lawmakers have approved a data protection legislation that seeks to better regulate big tech firms and penalize companies for data breaches. The Digital Personal Data Protection bill was passed by the upper house of Parliament Wednesday amid concerns by opposition parties and digital experts who said it undermines the privacy rights of Indians. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup, File)India passes data protection legislation in Parliament. Critics fear privacy violation

The case was filed under a wide-ranging anti-terrorism law that allows charges for “anti-national activities” and has been used against activists, journalists and critics of Modi, some of whom have spent years in jail before going to trial. No one has been arrested in connection with NewsClick so far.

Two people, including NewClick’s editor in chief, were detained during the raids, and police carried away boxes of documents.

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At least two journalists whose houses were raided by Delhi police said their devices were seized.

“Delhi police landed at my home. Taking away my laptop and phone,” journalist Abhisar Sharma wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Delhi police did not immediately respond for a comment, but India’s junior minister for information and broadcasting, Anurag Thakur, told reporters that “if anyone has committed anything wrong, search agencies are free to carry out investigations against them.”

In August, Thakur accused NewsClick of spreading an “anti-India agenda,” citing the New York Times, and of working with the opposition Indian National Congress party. Both NewsClick and the Congress party denied the accusations.

Reporters Without Borders, an advocacy group for journalists, ranked the country 161st in its press freedom rankings this year, writing that the situation in the country has deteriorated from “problematic” to “very bad.”

The Press Club of India said it was “deeply concerned about the multiple raids conducted on the houses of journalists and writers associated with NewsClick.”

“The PCI stand in solidarity with the journalists and demands the government to come out with details,” it wrote in a statement on X.

Ties between India and China have been strained since 2020, when clashes between the two militaries in a disputed border area killed at least 20 Indian troops and four Chinese soldiers. Since then, New Delhi has banned many Chinese-owned apps, including TikTok, and launched tax probes into some Chinese mobile phone companies.

The Modi administration has also introduced rules that require government approval for investments by companies from China and other countries that neighbor India.

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