Supreme Court Orders Release of NewsClick Editor Prabir Purkayastha

Supreme Court Rules Arrest Invalid Due to Procedural Lapses, Emphasizes Need for Written Grounds.

Grounds of Arrest Not Supplied Before Remand

In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court of India ordered the release of NewsClick founder-editor Prabir Purkayastha, deeming his arrest under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) invalid due to procedural lapses. The court found that the grounds for his arrest were not provided to him or his counsel in writing before his remand.

A bench comprising Justices B R Gavai and Sandeep Mehta directed that Purkayastha be released from custody upon furnishing a bail bond to the satisfaction of the trial court. The apex court clarified that this order should not be interpreted as a comment on the merits of the case against him.

Background and Arrest

Prabir Purkayastha, along with NewsClick’s HR head Amit Chakraborty, was arrested in October last year by the Delhi Police Special Cell. Their arrests followed a report by The New York Times, which alleged that NewsClick received funds from US billionaire Neville Roy Singham, accused of disseminating Chinese propaganda in India and abroad. While Chakraborty turned approver in January, the Delhi Police filed a chargesheet against Purkayastha in March.

Supreme Court’s Ruling

The Supreme Court’s decision to release Purkayastha hinged on the procedural inadequacies identified during his arrest and remand. The court stated, “From the detailed analysis made…there is no hesitation in the mind of the court to reach the conclusion that the copy of the remand application in the purported exercise of the communication of the grounds of arrest in writing was not provided to the accused appellant or his counsel before the passing of the order of remand dated October 4, 2023, which vitiates the arrest and subsequent remand of the appellant.”

Citing the precedent set in the Pankaj Bansal case, where the court ruled that the Enforcement Directorate must furnish the grounds of arrest in writing at the time of arrest, the bench invalidated Purkayastha’s arrest and subsequent remand. The justices declared, “The arrest of the appellant followed by the remand order…, and so also the impugned order…passed by the High Court of Delhi, are declared to be invalid in the eyes of law and are quashed and set aside.”

Implications and Future Proceedings

The Supreme Court bench emphasized that their order to release Purkayastha on bail should not be construed as a judgment on the case’s merits. Despite acknowledging procedural lapses, they required Purkayastha to furnish bail bonds due to the charges filed against him. “Though we would have been persuaded to direct the release of the appellant without requiring him to furnish bonds of security, since the charge has been filed, we feel it appropriate to direct that the appellant shall be released from custody on furnishing bail bonds, subject to the satisfaction of the trial court.”

The Delhi High Court had previously rejected the argument that written grounds for arrest were mandatory under UAPA, suggesting that informing the accused verbally was sufficient. However, it recommended that in future, the police should provide written grounds of arrest after redacting sensitive material.

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