NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha, arrested in a case lodged under the anti-terror law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for allegedly receiving money to spread pro-China propaganda, told the Delhi High Court on Monday the allegations against him were “false” and “bogus”, and “not a penny has come from China”.
Justice Tushar Rao Gedela reserved the order on pleas by Mr Purkayastha and the news portal’s human resources department head Amit Chakravarty challenging their arrest and the subsequent 7-day police remand after the investigation agency defended its action claiming NewsClick received Rs 75 crore from a person in China to ensure the country’s stability and integrity were compromised.
“Arguments heard. Order reserved,” Justice Gedela said after hearing the rival sides for around two hours.
The court said any further remand of the accused would be subject to its order on the petitions by the two senior executives of the news portal.
Mr Purkayastha and Mr Chakravarty, who were arrested by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police on October 3, had moved the high court last week challenging their arrest and subsequent police custody and sought immediate release as interim relief.
Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta, appearing for the investigation agency, said the case involves “serious offences” and the probe was still going on.
“About Rs 75 crore odd… the investigation is on and I can show it from case diary… came from a person staying in China and the purpose is to ensure that the stability and especially the integrity of this country is compromised,” he said.
“One of the most serious allegations found in the e-mail exchanges between accused persons with somebody sitting in China is that we will prepare a map where we will show J&K and what we call Arunachal Pradesh… they use the expression which Chinese use namely ‘northern border of India’ and not show that (Arunachal) to be a part of India,” SG Mehta told the court.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Purkayastha, refuted the claim.
“All facts are false. Not a penny has come from China…The whole thing is bogus,” Mr Sibal said.
Mr Sibal, along with senior advocate Dayan Krishnan, contended their arrest and remand in the present case cannot be sustained on several legal counts, including that they were not told about the grounds of arrest at the time of arrest or even to date. The remand order was passed by the trial court in a mechanical manner, in the absence of their lawyers, they said.
Mr Purkayastha’s lawyers argued the arrests were in violation of a recent Supreme Court decision that made it mandatory for police to supply written grounds of arrest to an accused at the time of being apprehended.
Mr Sibal said there was an “obvious discrepancy” in the trial court’s remand order because while the order recorded 6 am as the time of pronouncement, in terms of the high court rules, Mr Purkayastha’s lawyer was sent the remand application through WhatsApp only at 7 am.
Mr Krishnan added that supplying grounds of arrest and having a lawyer of choice was a “constitutional requirement” under Article 22 of the Constitution, which enables an accused to object to remand.
SG Mehta maintained the arrest was “legal as per the textual requirements of UAPA” because the accused were “informed” about the grounds of arrest.
He said a legal aid counsel was present before the trial court when the remand application was taken up for hearing.
Mr Mehta asserted mere quashing of the remand order would not result in the accused “walking free” and suggested since the police custody was coming to an end, the accused could be sent to judicial custody, after which they can apply for regular bail.
The senior law officer also submitted that the Supreme Court’s decision pertaining to the supply of grounds of arrest in written form was for offences under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, which was distinct from the UAPA, and that the ruling will have a “prospective effect” and not be applicable to this case.
“We intimated to him the grounds of arrest. It is not disputed. He was informed about grounds of arrest and produced before the special court within a stipulated time,” SG Mehta said.
“Tomorrow, police custody is getting over… It is a wrong proposition of law that quashing remand will result in the accused walking free… Remand is curable. I can place him in judicial custody and apply for remand afresh,” he added.
Mr Sibal contended a remand order cannot validate an arrest that has not been made as per the legal requirements.
Mr Mehta argued the reference to 6 am in the remand order was in the context of the production of the accused and not the pronouncement of the order.
Case diary is given for your perusal and “we have nothing to hide”, Mr Mehta told Justice Gedela.
The counsel for Mr Chakravarty told the court that he suffered from polio and his arrest was not required as he was neither a journalist nor an editor who would be responsible for the content on the portal. He said Mr Chakravarty has always cooperated with the probe.
Besides challenging their arrest, the two have also sought quashing of the FIR in the case.
The court said it will deal with the issuance of notice on this aspect at the time of its decision on the challenge to arrest and remand.
According to the FIR, a large amount of funds to the news portal came from China to “disrupt the sovereignty of India” and cause disaffection against the country.
It also alleged Mr Purkayastha conspired with a group — People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS) — to sabotage the electoral process during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
A raid was conducted on October 3 at 88 locations in Delhi and seven in other states on the suspects named in the FIR and those that surfaced in the analysis of data, the police said.
A total of 46 journalists and contributors to NewsClick were questioned on Tuesday and their mobile phones and other electronic gadgets seized. Police also sealed the NewsClick’s office in Delhi.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)