Researched by: Rachel John, Nirmal Bhansali, Aarthi Ramnath & Anannya Parekh
NewsClick raids: What the FIR says
Editor’s note: We did this as an extended headline since this is an important case—and reporting around legal issues can often be confusing.
The context: Last week, the Delhi police arrested the news website’s editor—after raiding 30 premises and questioning 46 employees and contributors. What’s unprecedented: the FIR invokes the stringent anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The trigger: a New York Times story on a global Chinese misinformation network—that included a throwaway mention of NewsClick in a single line. This Big Story has all the details.
What happened now: Over the weekend, we finally got details of the actual FIR—and the specific allegations it contains. These include some weird claims
One: Conspiracy to provide legal aid to Chinese companies facing tax evasion investigations—such as Xiaomi and Vivo:
“Further Shri Prabir Purkayastha, Shri Neville Roy Singham, Ms. Geeta Hariharan, Shri Gautam Bhatia (key person) conspired to create a Legal Community Network in India to campaign for and put up spirited defense of legal cases against aforementioned Chinese Telecom Companies in return for benefits by these Chinese Companies.”
No one knows if this is the same Gautam Bhatia who is well known for writing about constitutional issues. He has refused to comment but there is no evidence of him ever representing these companies in court.
Point to note: The FIR also claims that Vivo and Xiaomi “incorporated thousands of shell companies in India in violation of PMLA/FEMA for illegally infusing foreign funds in India in furtherance of this conspiracy”—this is an entirely new accusation. Reminder:
The trade between India and China surpassed $100 billion in 2022, and both Xiaomi and Vivo continue to operate in India. Xiaomi had also donated Rs 10 crore in 2020 to the PM CARES fund that was set up in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two: Neville Roy Singham—who was named by NYT as the kingpin funding misinformation on behalf of China—is linked to NewsClick via his investment arm Worldwide Media Holdings LLC. It is a shareholder in NewsClick:
[T]o disrupt sovereignty of India and to cause disaffection against India, large amount of funds were routed from China in circuitous and camouflaged manner and paid news were intentionally peddled criticising domestic policies, development projects of India and promoting, projecting and defending policies and programmes of the Chinese government.
The FIR does not offer any examples of this paid news.
Point to note: Worldwide Media has issued a detailed denial of the allegations—noting that the funds did not originate in Beijing but from a sale of an IT consultancy owned by Singham. The statement also notes that the investment was cleared by Indian regulators—and that the company remains in good standing in the US.
Three: The FIR makes reference to a WhatsApp group that included a number of academics and activists:
It is learnt that Prabir Purkayastha conspired with a group namely People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS) to sabotage the electoral process during 2019 General Elections. The key individuals of this group who were involved in this conspiracy are Battini Rao (Convenor, PADS), Dilip Simeon, Deepak Dhoulakia, Harsh Kapoor, Jamal Kidwai, Kiran Shaheen, Sanjay Kumar, Asit Das, etc.
Again, the FIR does not offer any evidence of such efforts at sabotage.
Four: The NewsClick editor is also accused of conspiring with “inimical foreign establishments” to back, support, and fund farmers agitation “with the objective of causing huge loss of several hundred crores to the Indian economy and create internal law and order problems in India.” Also thrown in for good measure:
Moreover, they have acted against the national interest by promoting a misleading and false narrative about the domestic pharmaceutical industry and the policy and initiatives of the democratically elected Indian government in cohorts with (sic) the Anti-National forces.
Point to note: There is no mention in the FIR of any “terrorist organisation” linked to NewsClick—even though it was referenced in the remand note submitted by the police at the time of Prabir Purkayastha’s arrest. As The Hindu editorial describes it, the FIR is “a vague amalgam of sweeping accusations that do not actually disclose any offence, leave alone one of terrorism.”
For more details, read The Wire and The Hindu. Indian Express points out the lack of any grounds to invoke an anti-terror act like UAPA. Activist Kavita Krishnan in Scroll takes aim at the New York Times’ reporting—and its journalists' efforts to get her to offer comments for their story.
And the Nobel Peace Prize goes to…
Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi—who is currently serving a 31-year sentence in the country’s most notorious prison. Her husband—also a prominent political activist—lives in exile in France with their 16-year-old twins—who have not seen their mother in eight years. She has been repeatedly arrested on a variety of charges—including “spreading propaganda against the system.” She was not allowed to directly respond to the news of the prize, but this is the message shared by her family:
In a statement that her family released on her behalf in case she won the award, she vowed to stay in Iran even if that meant spending the rest of her life in captivity. “Standing alongside the brave mothers of Iran,” she said, “I will continue to fight against the relentless discrimination, tyranny and gender-based oppression by the oppressive religious government until the liberation of women.”
India aces the Asian Games
We scored a total of 107 medals across 21 events—which is a landmark tally. China made #1 with 200 medals—followed by South Korea and Japan. We came in at #4—a jump of four places compared to Jakarta in 2018. Our performance in shooting was also the best ever—giving us 22 medals, including seven gold. The division across genders is also almost equal—52 medals were won by men, 46 by women, the rest were won in mixed events. The Hindu has the big picture—while Mint has lots more details. Also watch: this highlight reel of all the winning moments:
Also winning big: The Indian cricket team which beat Australia by six wickets. The damage was first done by the three spinners—especially Ravindra Jadeja who picked up three wickets, triggering a sensational collapse as Australia went from 110/2 to 140/7. India overcame a shaky start to chase a modest total of 200 runs—thanks to a 165-run partnership between Virat Kohli and KL Rahul. Indian Express has more on how the boys in blue embraced the CSK template for victory.
A devastating earthquake in Afghanistan
A 6.3 magnitude earthquake has claimed at least 2,000 lives in remote villages near the city of Herat. You can see how they’ve been reduced to rubble:
International organisations like the Red Cross and the UN are rushing emergency aid. It is one of the deadliest earthquakes to strike the country in two decades. The epicentre was about 40 kilometres northwest of Herat—and was followed by three aftershocks—measuring 6.3, 5.9 and 5.5 in magnitude. An earthquake in June 2022 killed at least 1,000 people. Associated Press has more on the devastation and heartbreak.
California guv nixes caste bill
Gavin Newsom has vetoed a bill passed by the legislature that explicitly banned caste discrimination: “California's legislation targeted the caste system in South Asian and Hindu immigrant communities by adding caste as a protected class to the state's existing anti-discrimination laws.” But Newsom argues the bill is “unnecessary” since discrimination based on ancestry is already unlawful. This is similar to arguments made by opponents of the bill—who also claimed it stigmatised the Hindu community. As of now only two US cities—Seattle and Fresno—specifically ban caste-based discrimination. This Big Story looked at caste discrimination in Silicon Valley. (Reuters)
Canada vs Google: A war over news
The context: On September 1, the Canadian government released the draft of the Online News Act. It requires Big Tech to negotiate payment for news content shared on their platforms with media outlets. In response, Meta removed all news links on Facebook and Instagram for Canadian users.
What happened now: Google is now threatening to follow suit—and remove all news links from its search engine in Canada—starting December 19 when the law will go into effect. It has rejected a compromise offered by the government—which proposed that the tech companies pay a flat 4% of their revenue in Canada. This would cost Google $126 million per year—which apparently is unacceptable. OTOH, the same companies have inked deals shelling out $150 million for news content in Australia. But Columbia Journalism Review says that deal is murky as well.
Why this matters: The reality is that big tech companies have profited the most from our news obsession—mopping up the giant share of ad revenue while leaving media companies cash-strapped and at the mercy of their ever changing algorithms. For better or worse, this is also the fallout of saying ‘oh I prefer to get my news on Twitter/Insta’. (Bloomberg News, paywall, CBC)
An alarming 23andMe hack
The genetic testing company finally admitted that a great chunk of its user data has been hacked—and is on sale on the dark web. This is pretty scary since 23andMe is a DNA-testing service that helps people trace their ancestry:
The attacker behind the incident already leaked to a popular hacking forum an initial sample of 1 million data points about users with Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, according to a post seen by Axios. The initial sample includes people's full names, birth years, location information and more, per the post. The attacker also reportedly published a separate sample with information about more than 300,000 users with Chinese heritage earlier in the week.
Also worrying: The posts sharing this info claim that 23andMe knew it had been “hacked” two months earlier and kept it under wraps. The company, OTOH, insists this is just basic profile data accessed by hacking passwords of individual user accounts: "nothing they have posted publicly indicates they actually have any 'health information.' These are all unsubstantiated claims at this point." Reminder: experts have long been warning of serious privacy hazards posed by genetic testing websites. (Axios)
Taste Atlas rates Indian cuisine
The Taste Atlas has acknowledged the unbeatable deliciousness of our beloved rajma—but oddly featured it twice on its list of ‘Best Bean Dishes in the World’. It came in at #18 as just ‘rajma’—and then again at #24 as ‘rajma chawal’. This is a bit like listing ‘panang curry’ and ‘panang curry with rice’ separately, na? Mercifully, there is no sign of US-style chilli—which as all Indians know is just a sad version of rajma. And we are intrigued by the winner—the Greek dish gigantes plaki (see: recipe here). The Taste Atlas website has more.
In more good news: Kayani Bakery in Pune came in at #18 in the list of ‘150 Most Legendary Dessert Places’. MoneyControl has the nine other Indian establishments that made the list.
Three things to see
One: This is literally the sign of our times. The Times of India ran this front page on Friday:
Hmm, was this a subversive protest against the rise of press censorship in India—perhaps a throwback to the brave days when newspapers like Indian Express published this framed blank editorial during the dark days of the Emergency:
Nah, TOI was just hawking out its front page for an incredibly tone-deaf Oreo ad:
‘Oreo Bola: Mat Bol’—which is pretty much the government’s line these days.
Two: Here’s a treat for cosplayers and fashionistas. Christian Louboutin released a 27-piece Marvel collection—ranging from shoes to bags for men, women and kids. It includes signature blinged out footwear—inspired by Black Panther and Infinity Stones.
And also this animated vid with Marvel’s new superhero—Loubi—yeah, as in Louboutin. Marvel and Hollywood Reporter have loads more on the collab. You can check out the collection here. The price range: between $590 and $3,995.
At Rohini Silver Screens, after the screening of the trailer, the theatre hall authorities found the fans jumping on the seats and subsequently leaving many of them broken due to overenthusiasm. The fans also damaged the barricades placed in the front gate of the theatre hall by the police while rushing inside to catch a glimpse of their favourite actor.
See evidence of the madness here. FYI: it also stars Sanjay Dutt playing yet another villain in a South Indian flick—which seems to pretty much sum up his movie career these days. The movie drops in theatres on October 19. (Indian Express)