Media houses Newslaundry and NewsClick stated that the recent income tax raids conducted on Friday in relation to alleged tax evasion was attack on their rights to privacy and freedom of speech. They said that the move was an attempt to stifle critical journalism.
In a statement released on Saturday, Abhinandan Sekhri, co-founder of the Delhi-based media publication Newslaundry, said that the officials arrived at the registered office at approximately 12.15 in the afternoon on the September 10 and conducted a “survey” under section 133 A according to a document shown by the officials.
NewsClick’s Editor-in-Chief Prabir Purkayastha confirmed in his statement that officials arrived at around the same time.
According to a report by the Indian Express, Purkayastha was not present in the office when the officials arrived. Reportedly, the IT officials made three trips to Purkayastha’s home on Friday — once to pick him up, the second time to take his phone, and the third time to pick up the hard disk of the entire email dump made during the ED raids in February.
Personal devices of all the employees, present during what the officials termed as “survey,” were temporarily seized. Sekhri also mentioned that he was not allowed to speak to his lawyer throughout the duration of the investigation, that was carried out by the Enforcement Directorate, and the Economic Offences Wing.
The publications further stated that while they cooperated with the officials and provided them with the required documents, the government representatives made further copies of the data available on the Sekhri and Purkayastha’s devices. However, no “signed hash value” was provided to them.
The Editors Guild of India condemned the act in a statement, and called it a “dangerous trend”. “This is clearly beyond the mandate of surveys as defined under the section 133A of the Income Tax Act, which only allows data pertaining to the investigation to be copied, and certainly not personal and professional data of journalists. It is also in violation of procedures laid out in the Information Technology Act, 2000,” they said.
Both Newslaundry and NewsClick have widely covered the COVID-19 pandemic, and farmers’ protests that highlighted the mismanagement of the central government in recent times.
This was not the first time that the publications witnessed a raid.
While Sekhri mentioned in his statement that a raid was conducted on Newslaundry, in June, the first raid at NewsClick was reportedly conducted in February due to allegations of money laundering.
“The raid yesterday appears to relate to the same false and unfounded allegations being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate and the Economic Offences Wing, Delhi Police. We have these allegations challenged in the Courts,” Purkayastha stated in his statement.