Indian authorities must stop harassing employees of the news website The Wire and let them work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.
On Monday, officials with the Delhi police crime branch searched the New Delhi office of The Wire and the residences of editors Siddharth Vardarajan, M.K. Venu, Siddharth Bhatia, and Jahanavi Sen, and seized their electronic devices, according to various news reports and Vardarajan, who spoke to CPJ over phone.
The searches were in relation to a police investigation into The Wire based on a complaint from Amit Malviya, an official with the ruling Bharatiya Janata party, Vardarajan said.
Malviya has accused Vardarajan, Venu, Bhatia, and Sen of cheating, forgery, and defamation in relation to a series of articles, in which The Wire had claimed that Malviya had special privilege to remove any posts from Instagram, according The Hindu.
Both Malviya and Meta, which owns Instagram, denied the accusation and The Wire later retracted the articles, claiming that it was misled by one of its reporters, and began a review of the incident, according to Scroll.in.
“The raids on the homes of The Wire editors is an excessive reaction by the Indian authorities,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Frankfurt, Germany. “The Wire has voluntarily withdrawn its reportage on Meta and Amit Malviya, apologized to its readers, and initiated an internal review. We call on authorities and politicians to cease the harassment.”
During the raid, the police seized phones, laptops and iPads belonging to Vardarajan, Venu, and Bhatia, as well as a junior video editor, the news reports said. The raid at The Wire office lasted for about six hours, and was conducted by 25 officers who refused the outlet’s lawyer entry to the premises and confiscated computers used for video editing and a hard disk containing information such as employee salaries, according to Vardarajan.
On Sunday, The Wire filed a complaint against its researcher Devesh Kumar with the economic offenses wing of the Delhi police, accusing him of fabricating documents that were used to substantiate the publication’s reporting on Meta and Malviya, according to Indian Express.
Delhi police spokesperson Suman Nalwa and Malviya did not respond to CPJ’s text messages requesting comment.