Police in New Delhi have raided the homes of prominent journalists linked to a left-leaning news organization known for its scrutiny of the Indian government, in a move media groups characterized as the latest attack on press freedom.
Forty-six people have been questioned and digital devices and documents seized for examination, Delhi police said in a short statement following the raid on Tuesday.
Those questioned include reporters, editors and contributors linked to NewsClick, an independent news website known for being fiercely critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
Police said they had arrested the outlet’s editor, Prabir Purkayastha, and a colleague, Amit Chakravarty, and an investigation is under way in connection with India’s Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA, an anti-terror law that critics describe as “draconian” and makes it nearly impossible to receive bail.
Some of those taken for questioning reported the raids on Twitter, now known as X, as they were taking place.
In one last post before her devices were taken, writer and activist Bhasha Singh wrote: “Finally last tweet from this phone. Delhi police seizure (sic) my phone.”
At 8.05 a.m. local time, journalist Abhisar Sharma said Delhi police were at his home and about to take his devices. Hours later, he added: “After a day-long interrogation by Delhi Special Cell, I am back home. Each and every question posed will be answered. Nothing to fear. And I will keep questioning people in power and particularly those who are afraid of simple questions.”
The raids have shaken and angered India’s independent media, who say Modi and his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are tightening their grip on press freedom.
CNN has reached out to the BJP for comment.
Speaking at an event in Odisha on Tuesday, Minister of Information and Broadcast Anurag Thakur said he didn’t need to justify the action from the police.
“If anyone has committed anything wrong, agencies are free to carry out investigations against them under set guidelines,” he said.
India, with a population of 1.4 billion people, is the world’s largest democracy and one of the largest media markets in the world.
But the Modi administration has been repeatedly accused of intimidating the press, stifling free speech, and censoring independent news organizations.
The Indian digital news foundation Digipub said it was “deeply concerned” by the raids.
“This has taken the government’s pattern of arbitrary and intimidatory behaviour to another level,” it said in a statement. “India has been in a downward spiral on press freedom and other rankings on civil liberties and human rights, and the Indian government’s war against the media is a blot on the world’s largest democracy.”
The Editor’s Guild of India said it was concerned that the raids were “yet another attempt to muzzle the media,” while urging the government to follow “due process” and “not create a general atmosphere of intimidation under the shadow of draconian laws.”
The Press Club of India said it stood in “solidarity with the journalists and demands the government to come out with details.”
Tuesday’s crackdown comes eight months after Indian tax authorities raided the BBC’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai, after it aired a documentary critical of Modi’s role in deadly riots in 2002.
Offices of other independent outlets have been raided in the past, and international non-profit rights group Amnesty halted operations in 2020 after the “complete freezing” of its bank accounts by the Indian government.
India dropped 11 places to 161 out of 180 nations in this year’s World Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders, and is now ranked between Laos and Djibouti.