'Was Told I Cannot Speak to Lawyer': Newslaundry Co-Founder on I-T Raids

This was the second such action against both publications.

3 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>The Income Tax (IT) department on Friday, 10 September, raided the offices of news-media organisations <em>NewsClick</em> and <em>Newslaundry</em>. Image used for representational purposes.&nbsp;<br></p></div>

On Friday, 10 September, officials from the Income Tax Department raided the offices of news-media organisations – NewsClick and Newslaundry.

A day later, in his official statement on the matter, Newslaundry CEO and Co-Founder, Abhinandan Sekhri, said:

"I was told I cannot speak to the lawyer and have to hand over my phone... I was told the law requires me to comply without seeking legal advice."

Sekhri also said that the Income Tax department, which raided their offices at approximately 12:15 in the afternoon, looked through all computer devices on the premises, including his personal mobile phone, and the data from these devices was downloaded.

However, the officials said that they were conducting separate “survey operations” and not “raids”. And that the operations were being conducted to verify certain tax payment details and remittances made by the organisations.

'Sustained Pattern Of Intimidation': DIGIPUB Releases Strong Statement

The DIGIPUB News India Foundation expressed their condemnation against the raids by stating that they see a 'sustained pattern of intimidation' against independent news websites.

"DIGIPUB is shocked by the harassment meted out by Income-Tax officials to the editors of the two publications. Phones and laptops were impounded during the search and data was cloned. This violates the right to privacy. It also compromises journalistic sources," they said, in a statement on 11 September.


'Deeply Disturbed': Editors Guild of India on IT Raids

The Editors Guild of India, on Friday, issued a press statement condemning the IT raids on the offices of Newsclick and Newslaundry, saying that it was "deeply disturbed" by the development.

"The Editors Guild of India is deeply disturbed about the Income Tax “surveys” at the offices of news websites and"
Editors Guild of India

The Guild observed that the IT team that conducted the raid copied data from Sekhri's laptop and mobile, asserting that the action was in violation of the legal provisions.

"This is clearly beyond the mandate of surveys as defined under 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," the statement said.

"The Guild is deeply concerned that such indiscriminate seizure of journalists’ data, which could include sensitive information such as details of sources, stories under works and other journalistic data, is in violation of free speech and freedom of press."
Editors Guild of India

The press release, which has been signed by President Seema Mustafa, General Secretary Sanjay Kapoor, and Treasurer Anant Nath, stated:

"The dangerous trend of government agencies harassing and intimidating independent media must stop as it undermines our constitutional democracy.

FMP Condemns IT 'Survey'

On Sunday, 12 September, the Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP) condemned the "survey" as described by the Income Tax department.

On Sekhri's phone and laptop being seized and their contents being downloaded, the organisation said, "This is an evident breach of the confidentiality of journalistic sources. Source confidentiality is sacrosanct in journalism, and is a global cornerstone of the professional code of media ethics."


'Phone Impounded, Documents Called Loose Papers'

Editor-in-chief of Newsclick Prabir Purkayastha, in his official statement, said that the "survey" in their office continued from 12 noon to midnight. His phone was impounded and documents, which the IT department referred to as "loose papers" were taken, along with email dumps and financial accounts.

The statement also said, "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."

This was the second such action against both publications.

In their statements, both organisations said that they stand by the work they do and will continue to do it.

Sekhri said, “We have nothing to hide and have done everything by the book and are not in any breach or violation of any law. We conduct our business honestly and with integrity.

"We will not be intimidated. We will continue to do our work, and speak truth to power," said Prabir.

(Correction: An earlier version of this story wrongly termed Abhinandan Sekhri as the Editor-in-Chief of Newslaundry. The error is regretted.)

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