Roys detained at airport; NDTV says ludicrous, subversion of basic rights
Preventing the Roys from travelling abroad is a "shameful continuance of the campaign to warn the media that nothing less than complete obeisance is acceptable", the statement said.
Prannoy Roy and his wife Radhika, the founders of the independent news network NDTV, were prevented from flying abroad Friday evening. A company statement said the couple is facing a case filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for the last two years, and sought to link the action with muzzling of free speech and freedom of the press. "Today's action is, along with events like raids on media owners, a warning to the media to fall in line- or else," said a statement from NDTV that pioneered cable news in the country. The action is "a complete subversion of basic rights, the company statement said. It can be noted that the country's ranking has been continuously slipping in the press freedom index and stood at 140 in a list of 180 as of 2019 list. Preventing the Roys from travelling abroad is a "shameful continuance of the campaign to warn the media that nothing less than complete obeisance is acceptable", the statement said.
The Roys were supposed to return on August 16, the statement said, without disclosing either the destination or the purpose. But some media reports said they were headed to the Kenyan capital Nairobi. The statement identified them as "journalists" and said "they have been stopped on the basis of a fake and wholly unsubstantiated corruption case filed by the CBI about an ICICI Bank loan that was taken by their company holding company RRPR, which was fully repaid with interest ahead of schedule," the statement said, adding the same has been challenged in the Delhi High Court. The statement said the Roys have been cooperating with the law enforcement agencies all these while and have also been traveling abroad regularly, and termed the "flight risk" insinuations as "ludicrous".
Even though the statement mentions CBI, it was immediately unclear as to which of the law enforcement agencies has issued the detention order, nor was it clear if the couple ever featured in any look out circular which is used to stop individuals from flying out of the country. A Mumbai airport spokesperson was not immediately available for comment. In June 2017, the Roys' home and offices were searched by the CBI over charges of defrauding a bank, which was termed as a "witch-hunt" by the broadcaster.
The CBI case has been filed against the Roys and their company RRPR Holding for allegedly causing losses to private sector lender ICICI Bank, which had reportedly given Rs 366 crore to RRPR after the Roys pledged their NDTV shares which were valued more than the then prevailing price. The lender settled for a foreclosure of the loan, agreeing to a part-waiver of interest that allegedly resulted in a loss of Rs 48 crore for ICICI Bank, the CBI had reportedly found.
"NDTV and ICICI Bank entered into a criminal conspiracy to transfer ownership of NDTV to a shell company, against banking rules, Sebi Act," the CBI had said in its FIR. The broadcaster had then termed it as concerted harassment based on false accusations. "We will not succumb to these attempts to blatantly undermine democracy and free speech in India," it had said then and also found support from the Editors Guild.
Apart from the CBI case, the Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax authorities have also been investigating NDTV since 2014 in a separate case involving receiving of funds from a foreign institution and settling of that account at 80 percent less than the original amount received.
Note from Dr. Pranoy Roy’s Daughter:
My family and I have just experienced on a personal level the appalling and insidious "whims" of a not only corrupt but criminal government. We were at immigration about to board for a 5 day trip to celebrate our parents 70th birthday - Prannoy and Radhika Roy. We had return tickets for Aug 15th. We were suddenly told that my parents are not allowed to leave the country. The reason given was the trumped up case with no legal substantiation filed by the CBI against NDTV.
The case was to do with a loan whose interest my parents paid ahead of time. They have been fully cooperating with the case and have been traveling abroad frequently - all of this time when the case has been on for the last 2 years. They were NEVER informed by the court or CBI that they cannot travel. Despite harassment they continue to fight for what is right - and are the last people on earth to be a flight risk.
The government has refused to resolve the case and has kept it pending for 2 years. My parents have complete transparency with their finances personal and business. The government refuses to follow due process. Whereas my parents are fully just wanting that - due process.
When a government DOES NOT follow due process and can do whatever it wants to it's citizens - the times are dark and scary. Whether it is revoking our entire history where a state is concerned and betraying a section of OUR people or it is attacking individual liberty and freedom.
We are all in shock right now - not only that a beautiful holiday planned a year in advance is stomped on. Not only because all the money has gone to waste. But because we suddenly feel we are not free. Something as simple as going on a holiday with your family - can be taken away from you without any warning.
Because you dare to speak up against the government.
To teach a strong lesson to anyone in the media - that they better fall in line or else.
I am inspired that my parents will never be cowed even by such harsh tactics. And will continue to show a path and shine a light for democracy and freedom in this country.
If you are a person who has voted this government in and you are feeling comfortable and secure that all is right with you - take the blinders off. In Narendra Modi and Amit Shah's India - no one is safe. They will come for you one day too.
This is a totalitarian regime.
(Drafted with input from PTI)