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Police in New Delhi have raided the homes of journalists, contributors and support staff of NewsClick, in an early-morning crackdown on a news website that Indian officials have described as an outlet for Chinese propaganda.
Several journalists and contributors to the site said police seized their phones and laptops during the operation on Tuesday, which came amid escalating India-China tensions following a stand-off on the countries’ shared Himalayan border.
“Finally [the] last tweet from this phone,” Bhasha Singh, a contributor to the site, wrote on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter, adding that Delhi police had seized her phone.
“Delhi police landed at my home,” Abhisar Sharma, another journalist associated with the site posted. “Taking away my laptop and phone.”
Media advocacy groups said the raids were indicative of a worsening climate for freedom of speech under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but Indian officials said they were investigating the site’s alleged Chinese links.
“Payouts have been made to so-called journalists to spread Chinese propaganda,” an Indian official who requested anonymity told the Financial Times.
“At this stage, it is important to secure the evidence and to go to the root of the matter,” including by accessing electronic records stored on the seized devices, “to prevent tampering of evidence”.
The Press Club of India said it was “deeply concerned” about the raids. “The PCI stands in solidarity with the journalists and demands the government to come out with the details,” the group said.
India’s rankings on press freedom indicators have dropped since Modi took power in 2014. Reporters Without Borders ranked India 161st out of 180 countries in its most recent World Press Freedom Index, down 11 places from the previous year.
However, an Indian government official said the raids were “about sovereignty of India and not about freedom of speech”.
The Modi government has taken a hard line against Chinese companies and apps since deadly clashes in India’s northern Ladakh region in 2020 that killed at least 24 troops, mostly Indians.
Beijing has since blocked parts of the border area to Indian patrols, while India has banned dozens of Chinese-owned apps, including TikTok, launched tax probes into Chinese mobile phone companies and introduced rules making investments by companies from China and other neighbouring countries subject to government approval.
In 2021, India’s Enforcement Directorate raided the offices and homes of several officials and journalists associated with NewsClick as part of a probe into its funding.
Attempts by the FT to contact NewsClick were unsuccessful and New Delhi police were not immediately available for comment. On its website, which was still operational, NewsClick describes itself as “an independent media organisation dedicated to covering news from India and elsewhere with a focus on progressive movements”.
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