New Delhi: Journalist Siddharth Varadarajan Friday said the Delhi office of The Wire, which he cofounded, was visited by a Delhi Police constable who sought to make inquiries about certain journalists working with the news website.
He described the visit, which reportedly lasted 18-20 minutes, as “strange”, writing in a Twitter post that the policeman also asked to see the rent agreement for the premises. The Delhi Police acknowledged the visit, but described it as a “routine check” conducted in the run-up to Independence Day on 15 August. The office, Delhi Police said, didn’t have a signboard, a claim denied by Varadarajan.
The visit of the policeman of Delhi Police came as The Wire, as part of a global media consortium, releases reports about alleged snooping targets under the ongoing Pegasus Project expose.
In his tweet, Varadarajan said the policeman questioned the staff present on the premises about journalist Vinod Dua, who has been a contributor for the website, and journalist Afra Khanum Sherwani, as well as actor Swara Bhasker, a vocal critic of the Modi government. Inquiries were also made about a person named Asif Khan, with the policeman mumbling about some “Kanpur case”, Varadarajan told ThePrint, describing the questions as “inane”.
Policeman arrived today with inane inquiries. 'Who's Vinod Dua?' 'Who's Swara Bhaskar?' 'Can I see your rent agreement?' 'Can I speak to Arfa?'
Asked why he'd come: "Routine check for Aug 15"
— Siddharth (@svaradarajan) July 23, 2021
Replying to Varadarajan’s post, the Delhi Police said the local beat officer had gone to the office for a check as “it did not bear any signboard at the entrance”.
“In the run-up to Independence Day, security and anti-terrorist measures such as tenant verification, checking of guest houses etc., are being taken throughout Delhi,” Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) New Delhi Deepak Yadav said, alongside a photograph.
In the run up to Independence Day,security and anti-terrorist measures such as tenant verification,checking of guest houses etc are being taken throughout Delhi.Local beat officer had gone to verify an office which didn't bear any signboard at the entrance. Please see the photo. pic.twitter.com/tmQObWIXmq
— DCP New Delhi (@DCPNewDelhi) July 23, 2021
Varadarajan, however, told ThePrint that the DCP’s response “doesn’t square with some of the questions that constable Mahesh was asking”.
He also refuted the police’s claim that there was no signboard at the entrance. “The sign — ‘Office for rent’ — is for the other half of the building that is locked. Once you enter the building, The Wire is written at the entrance,” he said.
“If the beat cop had visited for a routine check, why was he enquiring about Swara Bhasker and all? Police’s explanation and the constable’s questions don’t add up. This office has been here for the last four years and officers from the Mandir Marg Police Station have visited us several times earlier on various occasions,” Varadarajan said.
On Twitter, Sherwani, a senior editor with The Wire, said that she spoke to the constable over the phone after a colleague called her up on “beat officer Mahesh’s insistence”.
Sherwani also posted the purported transcript of her conversation with constable Mahesh.
Beat officer Mahesh came to The Wire’s office around noon with a list of people that had names of Vinod Dua,Swara Bhaskar,me & one Asif.
On his insistence that he wanted to talk to me,my colleague dialled my number & gave the phone to him.
This is my phone conversation with him- pic.twitter.com/WnmfgNMugD
— Arfa Khanum Sherwani (@khanumarfa) July 23, 2021
Varadarajan added that he couldn’t exactly understand the purpose of the visit.
Reached for a comment via phone call and text message, DCP Yadav reiterated that the purpose of the visit was for a routine check.
“Such routine checks have been going on in all districts,” a senior police officer, on the condition of anonymity, told ThePrint.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)