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NewsClick case in India: Guernica 37 Chambers and RSF call on the European Union to sanction Delhi police officers

Guernica 37 Chambers and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) call on the European Union to sanction four high-ranking officers of the Delhi police, responsible – directly or indirectly – for exactions against dozens of journalists working or having collaborated with the independent media NewsClick.

 


The arbitrary raid by the Indian police against journalists working for the independent online media NewsClick must not go unaddressed. Toby Cadman and Omar Soliman from Guernica 37 Chambers, specialists in human rights and international criminal law, along with RSF submitted the case to the European External Action Service (the European Union’s diplomatic service) with a request to refer it to Member States to adopt sanctions against four officials of the Delhi police’s counter-terrorism unit, who are implicated in an unprecedented crackdown on journalists in the country.

 

On their orders, members of this Special Cell raided the homes of 46 journalists in the capital and surrounding towns in October 2023. All were journalists, contributors, or former employees of NewsClick, an independent media organisation founded in 2009. More than 480 electronic devices – including telephones and laptops – were seized. Two members of the media company – Human Resources Director Amit Chakravarty and NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha – were taken into custody and charged under the draconian UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) anti-terrorism law. They have since been detained in Delhi’s Tihar prison.

 

Guernica 37 and RSF are calling for European Union sanctions against these police officers, under a scheme introduced in December 2020 to address serious human rights violations in third countries. These can range from a ban on entering the European Union to the freezing of assets on that territory and the prohibition of doing business with European entities.

 

“The actions of the Delhi Police Special Cell against journalists associated with NewsClick represent one of the most blatant attacks on press freedom in India. These raids, carried out on an unprecedented scale, with the deployment of 500 police officers, are an alarming step in an already worrying context of repression of journalists. These acts of terror require urgent action on the part of the European Union. This would be a strong act to alert the international community on the unacceptable repression of journalists, and a necessary warning to the Indian authorities in the run-up to the general elections.”

Celia Mercier, South Asia desk, Reporters Without Borders.

 

Accused by these specialised police unit of receiving illegal Chinese funding, the NewsClick editorial team is mainly targeted for its investigative reporting. Several journalists targeted by the raids had investigated alleged fraud committed by the Adani conglomerate, whose chairman is considered close to current Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Other reporters appear to have been targeted for their coverage of farmers’ protests between 2020 and 2021.

 

The Delhi Police Special Cell, under the direct control of the Home Ministry headed by Amit Shah, is regularly used to intimidate voices critical of the government – this was notably the case during the student protests of 2020 with several arrests of activists protesting against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) reform.

 

“The Delhi Police’s Special Cell seems to be one of the go-to bodies for the government of India to target critics, including journalists. Their speciality lies in the use of the UAPA to target dissidents. Both the UN and multiple foreign governments have warned the UAPA is ripe for misuse by authorities.”

Toby Cadman, Barrister and Founder of Guernica 37 Chambers

 

Press freedom has been under constant attack in India since Narendra Modi came to power. In 2023, India fell a further 11 places in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index to its worst ever position of 161st/180th, down from 133rd in 2016.

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