Alliance For Media Freedom condemns Kanyakumari Police's 'illegal detention' of two journalists probing sand mining
The Alliance For Media Freedom has condemned the 'illegal detention and harassment' of two Tamil Nadu journalists for helping two French reporters investigate illegal beach and sand mining.
In the field of journalism, the safety of reporters is at risk when they investigate cases of illegal activities — including mining — as they are often targeted by those involved in the crime. Such a case is unfolding in Tamil Nadu, where two journalists were "illegally" detained by the Kanyakumari Police on 28 and 29 November for helping two French reporters look into illegal beach and sand mining.
In response, the Alliance For Media Freedom on Tuesday condemned the "high-handed and illegal detention and harassment" of D Anandhakumar and M Sriram — both journalists from Chennai — calling it an attempt by the Kanyakumari Police "to peddle a false narrative on an issue involving media freedom".
Two French journalists of the Freedom Voices Network Team — deputy editor Jules Giraudat and investigative journalist Arthur Bouvart — were named in the FIR by the Kanyakumari Police on 29 November for allegedly trespassing government property. However, the Alliance For Media Freedom said in its statement that the neither Anandhakumar nor Sriram were aware that the French reporters had spoken to officials of Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL) at Manavalakurichi and taken photographs and videos in a restricted area.
IREL is the central government's beach sand mining agency. It falls under the purview of the Department of Atomic Energy.
Chairman of The Hindu Publishing Group N Ram, speaking at a press conference on behalf of the Alliance, also criticised the state for "uncritically swallowing" the official version of events as the authorities stated. On Twitter, he urged the "Editors Guild of India, organisations of working journalists, and others who value media freedom to speak up on this issue".
Condemn the illegal detention of two Tamil Nadu journalists & the false campaign by anti-democratic & communal elements on the issue. The Editors Guild of India, organisations of working journalists, and others who value media freedom must speak up on this issue.
— N. Ram (@nramind) December 4, 2018
The Alliance noted that the journalists from Chennai had helped the French reporters "without any monetary consideration and purely in the spirit of extending fraternal courtesy and facilitation to professional colleagues", also urging the Tamil Nadu government "to ensure that the freedom of the news media in the state is protected in letter and in spirit".
This was not before the media action group put forth a list of questions for the Kanyakumari Police to answer:
- Why were the two Tamil Nadu journalists illegally detained for two days?
- Why did the Kanyakumari Police issue summons to the two Tamil Nadu journalists inside the DSP's office after two days of detention? Was it not to cover up the illegality of the detention?
- Why did the Kanyakumari Police insist that the Tamil Nadu journalists must not reveal to other agencies (IB, Intelligence, etc) that the journalistic inquiry concerned illegal beach sand mining?
- What is the reason for the contradictory statements and versions planted by the Kanyakumari Police in this case?
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also came out in support of the Tamil Nadu journalists on Tuesday. "CPJ calls on Tamil Nadu Police to immediately stop harassing journalists reporting on illegal sand mining. Politicians also should not make baseless accusations against journalists for being 'spies'. Reporting is not espionage," it said on Twitter.
CPJ calls on Tamil Nadu Police to immediately stop harassing journalists reporting on illegal sand mining. Politicians also should not make baseless accusations against journalists for being "spies." Reporting is not espionage #India #JournalismIsNotACrime https://t.co/9IXDMnJjL9 — CPJ Asia (@CPJAsia) December 3, 2018
Journalist claims police trying to implicate her in same case
Meanwhile, journalist Sandhya Ravishankar also told Firstpost that the Kanyakumari Police was "attempting to foist false charges" against her to arrest her "seemingly at the behest of S Vaikundarajan", chairman of VV Mineral, India's largest miner and exporter of rare earth minerals. She said the police were trying to "incarcerate" her in the case of the two French and Chennai-based reporters.
"The narrative that is being built by the Kanyakumari Police, especially by DSP Bhaskaran and SP Shreenath, is that I am an alleged 'criminal mastermind' of alleged 'French spies' who entered the premises of the Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL) in Manavalakurichi on 26 November, 2018, Ravishankar told Firspost.
Ravishankar reports widely on the illegal sand mining and is no stranger to threats and attempts at intimidation. The Chennai-based journalist has faced several instances of harassment, violation of privacy and stalking after her four-part exposé on the sand mafia was published by The Wire early last year.
"The Kanyakumari Police are planting vicious and slanderous stories attempting to connect me with an alleged 'plot to steal national secrets'," she told Firstpost. "This is completely baseless and maligns my good reputation and is an attempt to intimidate, harass, threaten and incarcerate me without any basis and in a premeditated manner. I am afraid that I will be unfairly arrested under foisted charges.
Adding that the Kanyakumari Police had "illegally detained" two Tamil Nadu journalists on 28 and 29 November, she accused the force of spreading and planting rumours that "the French journalists were spies". "Kanyakumari SP Shree Nath and DSP Bhaskaran have both gone on record with a variety of contradictory versions, preferring to insist that the two Tamil Nadu journalists were with the French journalists when they entered the premises of IREL. This is very far from the truth," Ravishankar said.
"Now, the police are simultaneously attempting to connect me with Anand and Sriram in a bid to ensure that they can build a case and silence me by arresting me."
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