The Alliance for Media Freedom condemns the high-handed and illegal detention and harassment of two Tamil Nadu journalists by the Kanyakumari police on 28 and 29 November 2018. It also condemns the attempt of the Kanyakumari police, for reasons best known to itself, to peddle a false narrative on an issue involving media freedom.
D. Anandhakumar and M. Sriram, both journalists from Chennai, had visited Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts along with two accredited French investigative journalists. They did so without any monetary consideration and purely in the spirit of extending fraternal courtesy and facilitation to professional colleagues from a friendly country. Such facilitation on the ground is common in the world of journalism, as Indian journalists visiting foreign countries well know.
The two Indian journalists provided professional facilitation and assistance to two accredited French journalists in enquiring about illegal beach sand mining in the State and the consequent threats to the safety of journalists investigating and reporting on this. As is well known, the safety of journalists investigating crime and corruption, for example in the mining sector, has become a major international issue, with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF), and other public-spirited organisations investigating and engaging with the issue across the world, and the United Nations General Assembly establishing November 2 as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. It is a shocking fact that since 1992, 34 journalists have been murdered in India in connection with their work and that our country has figured in the CPJ’s Global Impunity Index every year since 2008, when CPJ began to publish the Index.
The two French journalists named in the case are Jules Giraudat, Deputy Editor of the Freedom Voices Network Team and an accredited member of the CCiJP ( Commission de la Carte d'Identité des Journalistes Professionnels, the organisation authorised to issue identity cards for professional journalists in France), and Arthur Bouvart, another investigative journalist who is part of the Freedom Voices Network Team.
The purpose of this French network, as can be seen from an article published in October 2017 in the Columbia Journalism Review , is no secret. It is to provide “a centralised online platform for investigative journalists in dangerous situations,” with a commitment to help them to use the platform “to protect themselves against reprisal and censorship so they don’t have to rely on outside help” and also to “keep their stories alive should they be killed.”
According to the First Information Report (FIR) registered by the Kanyakumari police on the basis of a complaint received from Rajesh Raman Nair, Chief Manager (Security) of the Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL) at Manavalakurichy, on the morning of 26 November 2018 the two French journalists, along with a local parish priest, Father Kildoss, met an official at the IREL. The complaint also mentions that “the Parish Priest along with the two foreign Nationals were involved in Videography in Beach mining areas and also had interviewed a few of the fishermen folk in Chinnavilai which comes under Govt. Property and photography/Videography is prohibited.”
IREL is the Central Government’s beach sand mining agency and comes under the purview of the Department of Atomic Energy. Its premises are a restricted area. Neither Anand nor Sriram was aware that the French journalists intended to visit IREL or that they had entered the premises. Nor did they have any part in the alleged photography/videography in the surrounding “Government property” mentioned in the complaint. The two Indian journalists were in their hotel rooms while the priest and the two French journalists reportedly met with IREL officials.
The two Indian journalists met with the French journalists only around 12.30 pm on that day and elsewhere in Kanyakumari district. It is only after the priest told them that the three of them (the priest and the two French journalists) had entered IREL that the Tamil Nadu journalists realised what had happened.
Anand’s explanation is that after a barrage of calls from unknown persons warning that their safety was at risk, they decided it was time to wind up and leave. The French journalists returned to Paris via Thiruvananthapuram and Mumbai. Anand, who accompanied the French journalists in a car, states that he got off en route to the Thiruvananthapuram airport, at the Thiruvananthapuram bus stand, to catch a bus and returned to Chennai in the early hours of 27 November 2018.
According to Anand, through the day on 27 November 2018 he as well as Sriram received calls from the Kanyakumari Deputy Superintendent of Police, Mr. Bhaskaran. He asked them to arrive in person by 28 November 2018 and said they could return to Chennai the same day after giving a statement. They were told that it was only an enquiry. The two Indian journalists departed from Chennai on the night of 27 November 2018 and arrived in Kanyakumari on the morning of 28 November 2018. They met DSP Bhaskaran at his office at 11am.
An enquiry took place with representatives of the Intelligence Bureau, State Intelligence, Q Branch, CID and other agencies present, and with the DSP as the investigating officer. In the midst of the enquiry, the French journalists made a video call via WhatsApp through Anand’s mobile phone and spoke to the DSP, explaining their credentials as accredited journalists. They also displayed their ID proofs to the police personnel, one of whom recorded the entire conversation on his mobile phone.
The questioning of Anand and Sriram went on for hours. They were then asked to write a statement and sign it. They complied. Around 3.00pm, they were taken to the Sun World Hotel, to Room number 412, and locked up – with their mobile phones taken away. They were brought back to the DSP’s office six hours later, that too only after a number of concerned journalists continually called the police asking why their colleagues had been illegally detained. Subsequently Anand and Sriram were taken to the Kanyakumari police station.
Following this, Sriram was allowed to go back to the Hotel after some time while Anand continued to be detained illegally at the Kanyakumari police station. He did not have access to his mobile phone.
Calls began pouring in from journalists across the country asking the DSP and the local Kanyakumari police as to why Anand was being detained illegally. Clearly concerned about this, the police returned Anand’s mobile phone to him around 1.30am and dropped him back at the Hotel around 3.00am where he and Sriram stayed the night – with four policemen sitting inside the room as they slept.
The next day, 29 November 2018, Anand and Sriram were taken again to the DSP’s office. There they were asked to sign summons stating that they would appear before the police for questioning on the same day at 2.00pm. Anand declined to sign the papers until a lawyer had vetted them. Only after D. Geetha, Advocate, intervened did the police finally release both journalists, with DSP Bhaskaran claiming that they were not in police custody. Anand and Sriram returned to Chennai around 10.00pm on the same night.
The detention of the two Indian journalists by the Kanyakumari police was in violation of the settled law – the set of “requirements to be followed in all cases of arrest or detention” mandated under pain of penalty by the Supreme Court of India in D. K. Basu v. State of West Bengal [ Judges: Justices Kuldip Singh and A.S. Anand: Citation: (1997) 1 SCC 416 ].
Subsequently the Kanyakumari police, clearly acting under extra-legal pressure, and external vested interests have been busy spreading and planting false news insinuating that the French journalists were “spies” and that they received local assistance in their mission. The police officials have gone on record with a variety of contradictory versions. The fact that the two Tamil Nadu journalists were not with the French journalists when they entered the premises of IREL can be proved through incontrovertible evidence, which should be available in the CCTV footage of the Sun World Hotel and IREL.
The Alliance for Media Freedom calls upon the Kanyakumari Police to answer the following questions:
- 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 enquiry concerned illegal beach sand mining?
- What is the reason for the contradictory statements and versions planted by the Kanyakumari police in this case?
The Alliance for Media Freedom requests the Tamil Nadu Director General of Police, Mr. T. K. Rajendran, to order a probe into the illegal detention of the two Tamil Nadu journalists by the Kanyakumari police and take action against those responsible for the illegalities.
The Alliance demands that the Kanyakumari police stop spreading false stories about the incidents and that it should act without prejudice and as per law in the case.
The Alliance is clear that the two Tamil Nadu journalists must and will continue to cooperate with the ongoing police investigation into the case.
Finally, the Alliance asks the Tamil Nadu Government to ensure that the freedom of the news media in the State is protected in letter and in spirit.