New Delhi police have arrested a veteran Indian journalist on suspicion of spying for China, as the two countries are locked in a military stand-off over their disputed Himalayan border.
Rajeev Sharma, who primarily wrote on foreign and strategic affairs, was a regular contributor to several Indian news outlets, and was also wrote occasionally for Global Times, the Chinese government-owned nationalist tabloid.
In a press briefing on Saturday, Sanjeev Kumar Yadav, deputy commissioner of the New Delhi police, said Mr Sharma was being held on suspicion of violating India’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act, a broad anti-espionage law that makes sharing secret government information punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
Police said the journalist had passed sensitive defence and strategic information to Kunming-based Chinese intelligence officials, who contacted him via the social-networking platform LinkedIn in 2016, after he started writing for the Global Times.
The police statement said the journalist travelled in 2016 to Kunming, where he was asked to supply information about India’s army movements, defence procurement and information about India’s disputed border with China in exchange for cash and “luxury holidays”.
The police statement alleged that Mr Sharma received around Rs3m ($41,000) between January 2019 and the present in exchange for information he provided, and had previously been paid $500 per article for writing on the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
“Given the amount of money, he must have given in to greed,” Mr Yadav told reporters.
A Chinese woman running a business exporting Indian pharmaceuticals to China, and her two Nepali associates, have also been arrested for their alleged involvement. The police said they helped route payments to Mr Sharma through shell companies.
Mr Sharma was detained on September 14 and remains in police custody, but his arrest was only announced this weekend. Neither he, his family nor a legal representative could be reached for comment.
The Press Club of India said it was “astounded at the arrest” of one of its members.
“We have no hesitation in saying that the police action is high-handed and may be inspired by obscure or questionable considerations,” the club said, calling the case “mind-boggling.”
The detention of Mr Sharma came a week after the Global Times published an article he wrote entitled: “A rapprochement road map for Beijing and New Delhi benefits both countries.”
Tension between Beijing and New Delhi has surged this summer, as tens of thousands of troops have jockeyed for position along the ill-defined line of control in the Himalayan region of Ladakh.
A June clash between rival troops in the Galwan Valley led to the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese casualties. Analysts say the situation at high risk of escalating.
India’s Official Secrets Act, which became law in 1923, is controversial as it does not clearly define what constitutes secret government information. Indian lawmakers and experts have in recent years debated the need to modernise the law to bring it in line with current standards of transparency, and the right to information, but no steps have been taken.
Mr Sharma has worked for Indian news organisations and contributed to foreign publications such as The Diplomat, an Asia-Pacific focused international affairs magazine, for four decades.