Over a day after the Delhi Police arrested NewsClick founder, editor-in-chief, Prabir Purkayastha, and its human resources head, Amit Chakraborty in an alleged terror case, journalist bodies across the country have jointly written to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud, seeking his intervention over what they claimed is an attack on media.
In a plea to the CJI, the press bodies stated, "The fact is that today, a large section of journalists in India finds itself working under the threat of reprisal. And it is imperative that the Judiciary confronts Power with a fundamental Truth that there is a Constitution to which we are all answerable."
On 3 October, the Special Cell of the Delhi Police raided the homes of 46 journalists, editors, writers, and professionals seemingly connected in one way or another to the online news portal, NewsClick. The raids led to the arrest of two persons under various sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and the seizure of mobile phones and computers, "without ensuring the integrity of their data- a basic protocol that is essential to due process" stated the letter written by several organisations.
Journalism can't be prosecuted as terrorism and the invocation of UAPA was "especially chilling", noted the letter.
The letter further said," During your time at the Supreme Court, you have seen how on numerous occasions, the country's investigating agencies have been misused and weaponised against the Press. Sedition and terrorism cases have been filed against editors and reporters, and multiple, sequential and/or frivolous FIRs have been used as an instrument of harassment against journalists."
The purpose of the letter, stated the press bodies, is not to bypass or circumvent the process and procedure established by law. "But when journalists are summoned and their devices seized in the name of investigation, there is an inherent malice in the process that must be checked," it noted.
Emphasising that 'journalists are not above the law', it added however that intimidation of the media affects the democratic fabric of society. And "subjecting journalists to a concentrated criminal process because the government disapproves of their coverage of national and international affairs is an attempt to chill the press by threat of reprisal the very ingredient you identified as a threat to freedom."
Journalists arrested under UAPA can end up spending months, if not years, behind bars before they are even granted bail, noted the letter, citing the case of journalist Siddique Kappan who was incarcerated for two years and four months before finally securing bail.
The letter’s signatories included the Digipub News India Foundation; Indian Women’s Press Corps; Press Club of India, New Delhi; Foundation for Media Professionals; Network of Women in Media, India; Chandigarh Press Club; National Alliance of Journalists; Delhi Union of Journalists; Kerala Union of Working Journalists; Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists; Free Speech Collective, Mumbai; Mumbai Press Club; Arunachal Pradesh Union of Working Journalists; Press Association of India; and the Guwahati Press Club.
Media bodies described the police action against those associated with NewsClick portal as yet another attempt to muzzle the freedom of press, expressing solidarity with the journalists who were arrested and whose premises were searched.