NewsClick founder released

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What’s in today’s article?

  • Why in News?
  • NewsClick founder released: Background
  • NewsClick founder released: Observations made by SC 
  • NewsClick founder released: Analysis

Why in News?

Invalidating his arrest in a terror case, the Supreme Court ordered the release of Newsclick founder-editor Prabir Purkayastha. The court ruled that the Delhi Police had failed to inform Purkayastha of the grounds for his arrest before taking him into custody.

The founder-editor was arrested in October 2023 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act following allegations that the portal had received funds for promoting pro-China propaganda.

NewsClick founder released: Background

  • FIRs registered 
    • The Special Cell of the Delhi Police had registered a first information report (FIR) in the case in August 2023.
    • The police registered the case under Sections 13, 16, 17, 18 and 22 of the UAPA.
      • Section 13 - Punishment for unlawful activities
      • Section 16 - Punishment for terrorist act
      • Section 17 - Punishment for raising funds for terrorist act
      • Section 18 - Punishment for organising of terrorist camps
      • Section 22 - Punishment for threatening witness
  • Cases were also registered under Sections 153A and 120B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
    • Section 153A - imposes criminal liability upon those who spread enmity and disharmony between different groups.
    • Section 120B - being part of a criminal conspiracy to commit a serious offense punishable.
  • The FIR was registered days after The New York Times published a report in August 2023 that the portal received money from American businessman Neville Roy Singham to spread Chinese propaganda.
  • Allegations are already under investigation by the Enforcement Directorate (ED)
    • The allegations are already under investigation by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) since 2021. 
    • The ED has accused the company of money laundering, claiming that the portal received ₹77 crore as foreign remittance between the years 2018-21.
  • Police raid
    • Police raided the homes and offices of journalists, authors, academics, contributors and a satirist associated with the news portal in a terrorism case. 
    • The journalists were asked questions about: 
      • the Delhi communal riots; 
      • the CAA agitation of 2019-20, 
      • the farmers protest of 2020-21 and 
      • whether they used encrypted messaging applications such as Signal on their phones. 
    • The phones and laptops of all the employees, contributors and consultants of the news portal were seized.

NewsClick founder released: Observations made by SC 

  • Right to be informed about the grounds of arrest in writing
    • SC observed that the right to life and personal liberty was the most sacrosanct fundamental right guaranteed under Articles 20, 21 and 22 of the Constitution.
    • It said that any person arrested over allegations of commission of offences under the UAPA or other offences has a fundamental and a statutory right to be informed about the grounds of arrest in writing.
  • Highlighted technicalities involved
    • Article 22(1) of the Constitution is about protection against arrest and detention.
    • The article reads: 
      • “No person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest nor shall he be denied the right to consult, and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice.”
    • The court also observed the judgement delivered by the SC in Pankaj Bansal versus Union of India (on October 3, 2023).
    • In this case, the Supreme Court (SC) held that to give true meaning to constitutional and statutory mandates, it is important that whenever someone is arrested, they should always be given a written explanation for why they are being arrested, without any exceptions.
    • Importance of these technicalities
    • This technicality is crucial because the bar for granting bail in stringent special legislation such as PMLA and UAPA is very high, making it virtually impossible to get bail. 
    • Therefore, the protection against unlawful arrests is even more important in stringent offences.

NewsClick founder released: Analysis

  • Principle of mandatorily sharing the grounds of arrest in writing has been extended to UAPA
    • The Supreme Court’s October 3, 2023 decision on an investigative agency mandatorily sharing the grounds of arrest in writing to the accused was in the context of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
    • The SC has now extended this principle to the UAPA.
  • Attempts to violate fundamental right would be dealt with strictly
    • The SC observed that any attempt to violate such fundamental right, guaranteed by Articles 20, 21 and 22 of the Constitution of India, would have to be dealt with strictly.
  • Extending procedural safeguards to UAPA is crucial
    • UAPA gives the state wide powers — from relaxing timelines for the state to file chargesheets and its stringent conditions for bail — compared to the IPC.
    • SC has in the past allowed very few procedural safeguards in the UAPA cases as these cases often involve serious charges and the prosecution invokes the arguments of national security. 
      • E.g., although the bar for grant of bail is very high under UAPA, the Supreme Court, in 2021, allowed bail under UAPA for the first time over inordinate delay in conducting trial.

Q.1. What is NewsClick?

NewsClick is an Indian news website founded by Prabir Purkayastha in 2009, who also serves as the Editor-in-Chief. The main headquarters are situated in New Delhi, with an additional office branch in Mumbai, Maharashtra.

Q.2. What is the first information report (FIR)?

First Information Report (FIR) is a written document prepared by the police when they receive information about the commission of a cognizable offence. It is a report of information that reaches the police first in point of time and that is why it is called the First Information Report.

Source: Failure to follow procedure: Why SC said Newsclick founder’s arrest was illegal | Indian Express | The Hindu