After the arrest of freelance journalist Rajeev Sharma in connection with a case under the Official Secrets Act, China’s state-run Global Times said it’s “inappropriate” for India to publicly link the publication to this case and “create a sensation to attract attention”.
In an opinion piece, the editor of Global Times Hu Xijin said, “I do not know whether the Indian side is making up an unjust case because of the tensions between China and India.” The media outlet, he said, has a large number of freelance writers all over the world and Indian intellectuals are generally able to write in English.
Sharma was arrested on 14 September by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police and has been accused of passing sensitive information about India’s border strategy to Chinese intelligence agencies, police said. In a statement, the police had said that the journalist was contacted by a Chinese intelligence officer after observing his columns in Global Times.
Since the launch of the English edition of Global Times, Hu Xijin added, it has been common for Indians to either work for the outlet in Beijing as copy editors, or write from India on a freelance basis.
The Delhi Police’s Special Cell will write to the Ministry of Defence to ascertain the authenticity of defence-related classified documents found in possession of Sharma, PTI quoted Deputy Commissioner of Police (Special Cell) Sanjeev Kumar Yadav as saying.
At a press conference held on Saturday, the DCP had said that Sharma was allegedly contacted by Chinese intelligence officer Michael in 2016 and the journalist had shared sensitive information with him until 2018.
“During the period from 2010 to 2014, Sharma wrote a weekly column for Global Times, widely known as a mouthpiece of the Chinese government. Observing those columns, Michael from Kunming city of China contacted Sharma and invited him to Kunming city for an interview in a media company,” police said in a statement, according to PTI.
Sharma had an accreditation card of Press Information Bureau (PIB). The PIB accreditation is provided after multiple layer of security checks and is renewed annually, The Hindu pointed out.
The Press Club of India (PCI) has criticised Sharma’s arrest and called the police action “high-handed”. In a statement, the PCI demanded that in all cases of arrests of journalists, 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.
The club said it was “astounded to hear of the arrest of Rajeev Sharma, a well-known independent journalist of long standing and a member of the club”.
“This is on account of the dubious track record of the Special Cell. More generally also, the record of Delhi Police is hardly a shining one,” it said.
“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,” the PCI said.
(With PTI inputs)