'Police action is high-handed': Press Club of India slams arrest of journalist under Official Secrets Act

The Press Club of India on Saturday slammed the arrest of journalist Rajeev Sharma who has been arrested for allegedly passing sensitive information to "Chinese intelligence".

Sharma was arrested by the Special Cell of Delhi Police under the Official Secrets Act. Sharma was produced before the court on September 15, which sent him to six-day police custody.

Coomenting on his arrest, the PCI said it was astounded to hear of the arrest of the well-known independent journalist of long standing and a member of the Press Club of India.

"This is on account of the dubious track record of the Special Branch. More generally also, the record of Delhi Police is hardly a shining one. On the basis of the statement of the police released to the media, we have no hesitation in saying that the police action is high-handed, and may be inspired by obscure or questionable considerations," it said.

The PCI cited past incidents of arrest of journalist of Delhi Police where the accused were later exonerated.

"Of late, Delhi Police, including its Special Branch, have made preposterous arrests under the lawless law called UAPA in which the word of the government is enough to keep an innocent person behind bars for long periods. These have happened in matters relating to anti-CAA protests and the carefully designed communal killings in the so-called February 2020 riots in northeast Delhi," the PCI said.

"Rajeev Sharma's six-day police remand, after his arrest on September 14 under the Official Secrets act, evidently for relaying defence-related information to China, also appears mind-boggling. Mr Sharma wrote on strategic affairs and may well have accessed routinely over-classified information on the Internet that is in the public domain," it said.

"Eventually, the matter will reach the magistracy and probably the higher levels of the judiciary. It is our demand, however, that in all cases of arrests of journalists anywhere in the country, the police must be required to inform the Press Council of India as well as the self-regulatory body of the broadcast media on an immediate basis, and provide pertinent details so that a defence may be possible to construct," it added.

Delhi Police Special Cell said Sharma, a resident of Pitampura in New Delhi, was "found to be in possession of some defence-related classified documents".

At a press conference, Special Cell DCP Sanjeev Kumar Yadav said Sharma was writing on defence-related issues for some Indian media organisations, as well as China's Global Times.

He was contacted by Chinese Intelligence agents in 2016. Sharma was also in contact with some Chinese intelligence officer, the police officer said, adding the freelance journalist got Rs 40 lakh in one-and-a-half years and he was getting USD 1,000 for each information.

Sharma was arrested September 14 based on inputs from central intelligence. Police have seized classified defence documents from him, the DCP said.

According to the police, a Chinese woman and her Nepalese associate were also arrested for paying him large amounts of money routed through shell companies.

The police said his bail application is listed for September 22.

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