Skip to main content

Brazen attempt to intimidate independent media: PUCL on raids on The Wire editors

Counterview Desk 

Taking strong exception the Delhi police raids on news portal The Wire’s editors and seizure of their electronic devices, India’s premier human rights organisation People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has said that the cops deciding to dramatically raid the residence of Siddharth Varadarajan, MK Venu and others suggests their intention was “not to pursue an enquiry but to conduct a witch hunt by making a spectacle of the search.”
In a statement, PUCL general secretary V Suresh said, “What makes the police’s actions suspect is that they conducted the search and seizure despite knowing fully about the public retraction of the stories which formed the basis of the criminal complaint.”
“The intention was clearly to browbeat The Wire’s editors and to scare other media persons of their fates if they dared to challenge the ruling interests”, it added.

Text:

The PUCL strongly condemns the raids on the residences and office of senior editors of the news portal, The Wire, in New Delhi and Mumbai on 31st October and 1st November, 2022 and manhandling of the lawyer, Mr Shadan Farasat and other staff members of The Wire.
The raids followed a First Information Report (FIR) registered in New Delhi on the basis of a complaint filed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) National Information and Technology department in-charge, Amit Malviya. The allegations pertained to cheating, forgery, defamation and criminal conspiracy.
It is significant to point out that on 23rd October, 2022 itself, The Wire formally retracted the story (which is the basis of the complaint by Amit Malviya) after an internal review revealed discrepancies. The retraction was carried as a prominent article in The Wire with the title, The Wire Retracts Its Meta Stories.
The Wire very clearly, openly and unambiguously explained the reason for the retraction saying, “Given the discrepancies that have come to our attention via our review so far, The Wire will also conduct a thorough review of previous reporting done by the technical team involved in our Meta coverage”.
What is shocking is that despite the unambiguous retraction and the public candour accompanying the retraction, the Delhi police have used the complaint filed by Mr. Malviya as an opportunity to register a more sinister FIR involving cheating, forgery and criminal conspiracy as a cover to target The Wire and its staff.
On the basis of these trumped up charges, the Delhi Police Crime Branch arbitrarily conducted search and seizure operations at the homes of The Wire’s founding editors, Siddharth Varadarajan, MK Venu and Sidharth Bhatia as well as the deputy editor, Jahnavi Sen and product-cum-business head, Mithun Kidambi, relying on notice under Section 91 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. The raid at the house of the latter was conducted past midnight at around 2 a.m. on 1st November, 2022.
Even if, for argument's sake, the police wanted to pursue the complaint by conducting an enquiry, all they needed to do was call The Wire’s editors for an enquiry along with the necessary evidence of their articles. The fact that the Delhi police decided to dramatically raid the residence of Siddharth Varadarajan, MK Venu and others shows that their intention was not to pursue an enquiry but to conduct a witch hunt by making a spectacle of the search.
What makes the police’s actions suspect is that they conducted the search and seizure despite knowing fully about the public retraction of the stories which formed the basis of the criminal complaint. The intention was clearly to browbeat The Wire’s editors and to scare other media persons of their fates if they dared to challenge the ruling interests.
According to a report published by `Newslaundry’, sixteen devices were seized from the office of The Wire. Two phones, a tablet and a laptop from Varadarajan, a phone and a laptop each from Venu, Bhatia, Sen and Kidambi, and two hard disks from the accounts department’s computers were among the devices seized. A reporter’s phone and the computer he worked on at The Wire’s office were also taken away in Delhi. 
In addition to these devices, the Delhi police also asked the four editors and Kidambi to remove passcodes from their phones and laptops, and to provide passwords to their official and personal email accounts. Three staffers were asked for passwords to their official email accounts while another staff member was told to give passwords to both official and personal email accounts.
It should also be noted that the Crime Branch did not follow the requisite procedure as it took away devices from the news portal’s New Delhi office and from the homes of those raided without providing any hash value, i.e., the numeric value that uniquely identifies data lodged in an electronic device at any given point in time. There are legitimate concerns that absence of a hash value leaves the door open to planting material on the digital devices.
The blanket access so taken by the Crime Branch of the information on the devices seized also raises serious privacy concerns and is violative of Article 20(3) and Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Concerns have been raised time and again on the arbitrary exercise of the powers of search and seizure by the law enforcement authorities of digital devices, especially since the existing legal provisions are highly insufficient and fail to provide any procedural safeguards for the same.
The Supreme Court has recently issued notice in petitions filed before it by academics and journalist bodies for guidelines on seizure of digital devices and the matters are currently pending. Forcing an accused to reveal the password of his or her electronic devices runs afoul of the right against self incrimination. A Special CBI Court in Delhi has come to this conclusion based on an interpretation of the scope of the Supreme Court judgment in `Selvi v. State of Karnataka’.
The PUCL strongly condemns this targeting of The Wire and the arbitrary raids as well as the search and seizure operations carried out by the Crime Branch as nothing but another brazen attempt to intimidate and silence independent media from performing its professional role.
It should be pointed out that the current ruling dispensation has been targeting The Wire, and especially founder - editors, Siddharth Varadarajan and MK Venu, because The Wire has been at the forefront of investigative journalism which has repeatedly spoken the truth to power and sought to keep the executive accountable.
It is this important work done by The Wire which is the real reason for the raids. We in the PUCL stand with The Wire and condemn what is a blatant attempt to snuff out independent media voices.
The PUCL demands that the Delhi police cease this persecution in the guise of a prosecution, drop all charges and return the seized electronic devices seized during the raids back to the people from whom they were seized.

Comments

TRENDING

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

Attack on Gaza: Western media 'went out of the way' to obscure, protect perpetrators

By Sonali Kolhatkar*  Israeli forces killed more than a hundred Palestinians and wounded more than 700 on February 29, 2024 during a distribution of food aid in Gaza city, pushing the Palestinian death toll to 30,000 since October 7, 2023. The food aid massacre was straightforward in its deadliness as armed Israeli forces aimed weapons at desperate, hungry Palestinian civilians and killed many of them. It was also plausible within the context of who has firepower and who doesn’t, and wholly consistent with Israeli atrocities, especially those committed since October 7, 2023.

Living standards in 'model' Gujarat worse than major states: Govt of India document

By Rajiv Shah  Amidst raging controversy over whether the latest Government of India’s “Household Consumption Expenditure Survey 2022-23 Fact Sheet: August 2022-July 2023” suggests that India’s poverty levels are actually down to 4.5 to 5%  during the decade-long Narendra Modi rule, a state-wise breakup in the 27-page document shows that “model” Gujarat’s average consumption expenditure is far below most of the so-called developed states.

India second best place to invest, next to UAE, yet there is 'lacks support' for IT services

By Sreevas Sahasranamam, Aileen Ionescu-Somers*  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the best place in the world to start a new business, according to the latest annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey. The Arab nation is number one for the third year in a row thanks to a big push by the government into cutting-edge technology in its efforts to diversify away from oil.

Not livable in summer, Chitrakut PM-Awas houses 'push' tribals in moneylender trap

By Bharat Dogra*  Those who are in-charge of implementing the PM-Awas scheme of rural housing can rightly take pride in what has been achieved in Dafai hamlet (Karvi block, Chitrakut district, Uttar Pradesh). All the Kol tribal families here are extremely poor and vulnerable. In a rare achievement, almost all of them have received housing assistance under PM Awas. 

Stressing on standardisation, efficiency, capitalists 'intensify' workers' exploitation

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  The productivist ideology lies at the core of the profit-making pyramid of capitalism. It perpetuates a relentless cycle characterized by busy schedules, workplace tension, an imbalance in work-life equilibrium, and a pervasive sense of alienation. 

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Development? This tribal hamlet in Chitrakut has no toilets, no electricity connections yet

By Bharat Dogra*  As we moved away from the starting point of the Bundelkhand Expressway and a famous pilgrimage site into a side-road, the hills of Chitrakut here appeared to be more and more isolated. Another turn, and we appeared to have reached almost a dead-end. However it is here that over 80 households of the Kol tribal community have been living for a long time.

WTO 'loses legitimacy': CSOs shut out of normal participation in MC13 at Abu Dhabi

By Deborah James  Given unprecedented repression of participants, the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) at Abu Dhabi should not continue until historical and international standards and human rights for participation in global governance are restored.