UAPA case against NewsClick founder Prabir: Legal experts say FIR lacks specifics

The complaint against NewsClick was registered in August, soon after a New York Times report alleged that the website had received funds from a network related to Neville Roy Singham to spread "Chinese propaganda".
NewsClick founder and editor Prabir Purkayastha
NewsClick founder and editor Prabir Purkayastha
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As journalists across the country protest the arrest of Prabir Purkayastha, founder and editor-in-chief of NewsClick, along with the HR head Amit Chakraborty, the First Information Report (FIR) filed by the Delhi police alleges that the online portal has been receiving foreign funds in crores to conspire against India. The arrests were made under the contentious Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The police accused NewsClick of working “to cause disaffection against India and to threaten the unity, integrity, security of India”.

Citing alleged email communications between Prabir Purkayastha and American millionaire Neville Roy Singham, the FIR alleges the duo’s secessionist intent to show Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as separate from India. “Such attempts by these persons reveal their conspiracy to peddle a narrative, both globally and domestically, that Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh are disputed territories. Their attempts to tinker with the northern borders of India and to show Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as not parts of India in maps amount to an act intended towards undermining the unity and territorial integrity of India,” reads the FIR. 

However, legal experts are of the opinion that this does not warrant a case under the UAPA because this alleged “intent” to show Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as separate was not ever asserted in public by either Prabir or Neville Roy Singham.

“Firstly, the FIR doesn’t exactly mention between whom the email exchange took place. And even if it had, there was no assertion by any of the parties involved in terms of publishing it on their site or making a public statement or whatever. The FIR does not say that there was any assertion that fits the definition of secession under UAPA,” a Delhi-based lawyer told TNM, under the condition of anonymity. 

The complaint against NewsClick was registered in August, soon after a New York Times report alleged that the website had received funds from a network related to Neville Roy Singham to spread "Chinese propaganda". Prabir and Amit were arrested on Tuesday, October 3, hours after the Delhi police conducted searches at the houses of several journalists and political commentators associated with the NewsClick. 

The searches were related to an FIR registered on August 17, 2023, invoking multiple sections of the UAPA, including “raising funds for a terrorist act”, along with Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.

In their statement on Wednesday, October 4, NewsClick said that all of its funding is through legal channels. “All funding received by NewsClick has been through the appropriate banking channels and have been reported to the relevant authorities as required by law, as substantiated by the Reserve Bank of India in proceedings before the High Court of Delhi,” the statement read. 

Citing how the police have not justified some of the charges in the FIR, a lawyer further elaborated to TNM that this is unusual. “The police have not even managed to explain some of the sections they have charged the accused with. Normally, when there is a charge of Section 153A, which promotes enmity between two groups, they should at least mention which are the two groups. There are no groups mentioned in the FIR between whom the accused promoted enmity,” they said.  

The Delhi police, in its FIR, also mentions Prabir’s association with human rights activist Gautam Navlakha, who is under house arrest in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist link case. “Gautam Navlakha has been a shareholder in PPK Newsclick Studio Pvt Ltd since its inception in the year 2018. He remained involved in anti-Indian and unlawful activities such as actively supporting banned Naxal organisations and having anti-national nexus with Gulam Nabi Fai, who is an agent of ISI of Pakistan,” reads the FIR. 

According to the police, the foreign funds received by Prabir were routed to Gautam Navlakha and others, including activist Teesta Setalvad. The police went on to allege that these funds were used to abet damage and destruction of property through the farmers' protests.

The FIR also names lawyer Gautam Bhatia as a “key person” who conspired to create a Legal Community Network in India to campaign for and put up a spirited defense of legal cases against Chinese Telecom Companies like Xiaomi and Vivo in return for benefits by these companies.

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