(Bloomberg) -- Indian police officials arrested two and raided the office and homes of journalists of a news website that’s been critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, in the latest sign of a crackdown on media freedom in the country.
Staff from NewsClick, a New Delhi-based online paper, posted on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, just before their phones and laptops were seized by local police on Tuesday.
“Delhi police landed at my home. Taking away my laptop and Phone...,” Abhisar Sharma, a journalist at NewsClick, wrote on X. Another reporter, Bhasha Singh, also posted that the police was seizing her phone.
NewsClick had been the subject of investigation by Indian authorities for some time. In 2021, the NewsClick office and homes of seven staff members were raided by the Enforcement Directorate over allegations of improper foreign investments. NewsClick founder, Prabir Purkayastha at the time called the allegations “misleading, unfounded and without basis in fact or law.”
“A total of 37 male suspects have been questioned at premises, 9 female suspects have been questioned at their respective places of stay and digital devices, documents etc. have been seized/collected for examination,” the Delhi Police said in a late evening statement. “The proceedings are still ongoing; so far, two accused, Prabir Purkayastha and Amit Chakravarty have been arrested.”
Indian journalists and media houses have come under increasing pressure from the government for news coverage that may be perceived as critical of Modi, his government or the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Earlier this year, the BBC’s offices in New Delhi were raided by investigative agencies, weeks after the network aired a documentary about the 2002 Gujarat riots and Modi’s role in them. Last year, Mohammad Zubair, a journalist running a fact-checking website, Alt News, was arrested and detained for weeks after highlighting anti-Islamic comments made by former BJP officials.
Reporters Without Borders, a press advocacy group, this year dropped India to 161st place in its press freedom rankings of 180 countries and territories.
The Press Club of India released a statement Tuesday expressing concern at the raids, adding that it “demands the government to come out with details” for its action.
The New York Times in August cited NewsClick as an organization allegedly being used for Chinese propaganda overseas. Anurag Thakur, an Indian cabinet minister, said at the time that NewsClick was being funded by China but the salesmen in the operation were Indians.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday regarding the raids, Thakur said that “if someone has done something wrong, the investigative agencies will work on it.”
--With assistance from Abhay Singh and Bibhudatta Pradhan.
(Updates with Delhi Police statement in fifth paragraph)
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