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India top court orders journalist’s release in illegal funding case

Prabir Purkayastha of NewsClick was accused of receiving money from China to publish news criticising New Delhi’s policies and projects and defending those of Beijing.

A man waves a placard and chants slogans as he protests against the arrest of NewsClick’s founder and editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha and Amit Chakravarty, the firm’s human resources head, under a stringent anti-terror law on October 5, 2023, in Bengaluru, India. (Photo by Abhishek Chinnappa/Getty Images)

By: Shubham Ghosh

THE Supreme Court of India has ordered the release of Prabir Purkayastha, founder and editor-in-chief of an Indian news portal that has been accused by police of receiving illegal funding from China. Confirming the news on Wednesday (15), his lawyers said the top court deemed his arrest invalid, more than seven months after it occurred.

Purkayastha was arrested last October, and the police raided the office of his English portal NewsClick in New Delhi, along with homes of journalists and writers linked with it.

According to Purkayastha’s lawyer, Arshdeep Singh Khurana, the court said that the journalist had not been informed of the grounds for his arrest in a timely manner, Reuters reported.

He will be released from custody upon providing a bail bond to a lower court, Nitin Saluja, another lawyer in the case, said, the report added.

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A two-judge bench comprising Justice BR Mehta and Justice Sandeep Mehta delivered the verdict.

“There is no hesitation in the mind of the court that the grounds of arrest were not provided, which vitiates the arrest,” said Justice Mehta.

Purkayastha has been in custody under the stringent anti-terror law, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, since October 3 last year.

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The probe kicked off after a report in The New York Times last August identified NewsClick as a part of a global network that received funds from American billionaire of Sri Lankan origin, Neville Roy Singham, allegedly to promote Chinese propaganda.

Purkayastha was subsequently accused of conspiracy to disrupt India’s sovereignty. According to the police, he had received huge funds from China to publish biased news criticising New Delhi’s policies and projects and defending those of Beijing.

The portal had said at the time that neither does it publish news or information at the behest of any Chinese entity, nor does it take directions from Singham on what to publish.

Media rights bodies and opposition groups in India termed the investigation into NewsClick and the related accusations as part of a crackdown against the media, an allegation that the Narendra Modi government denied.

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