The Supreme Court notifies the police of the arrest and detention of the founder and HR director of NewsClick under UAPA
A Supreme Court bench comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and P.K. Mishra issued a notice to the Delhi Police on October 19 in response to petitions challenging the arrest and detention of NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha and employee Amir Chakraborty under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The case is scheduled for a hearing on October 30.
Initially, the court set a date for the hearing three weeks later, but senior advocate Kapil Sibal requested an expedited hearing, citing the advanced age of his client, Mr. Purkayastha, who is over 70 years old and has been in remand for several days. Senior advocate Devaduut Kamat represented Mr. Chakraborty.
The case had initially come before the court on October 18 but was adjourned for a day with an indication that the court would issue notice to the police.
The case reached the Supreme Court after the Delhi High Court declined to intervene in the arrest and subsequent police remand of Mr. Purkayastha and Mr. Chakraborty under the anti-terror law.
Mr. Purkayastha and Mr. Chakraborty were arrested by the Delhi Police's Special Cell on October 3 based on an FIR filed on August 17. The FIR also named activist Gautam Navlakha, currently under house arrest in another terror case, and U.S.-based businessman Neville Roy Singham.
The arrested individuals contested their arrest in the High Court, arguing that they were not provided with written grounds for their arrest at the time or afterward. They also challenged the remand order issued by a Special Judge on October 4, claiming it was given in the absence of their lawyers.
The High Court rejected their arguments, stating that there was no procedural irregularity or constitutional violation regarding the arrest and remand order. The High Court emphasized the seriousness of the offenses under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, stressing their potential impact on national security, stability, integrity, and sovereignty.
The High Court also pointed out that the recent Supreme Court judgment in the Pankaj Bansal case, requiring investigating agencies to provide written grounds of arrest to accused individuals in Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) cases, does not apply to UAPA cases.
Several journalist collectives from different parts of the country had previously written to Chief Justice Chandrachud, urging an inquiry into the "inherent malice" behind the raids on the homes of 46 journalists, editors, writers, and professionals associated with the online portal NewsClick, along with the seizure of their electronic devices.
In their letter, the collectives argued that journalism should not be equated with terrorism and expressed concern over the use of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). They noted that the police had provided only vague assertions of unspecified offenses as a pretext to question journalists regarding their coverage of various critical issues.
The letter emphasized the chilling effect of intimidating the media and subjecting journalists to a criminal process due to government disapproval of their coverage, highlighting the prolonged incarceration faced by journalists arrested under the UAPA.