A U.S.-based independent journalist, Mark Scialla, who is suspected to have been working on a report related to the sealing of the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi, was whisked away by the police in a car and interrogated for several hours on Sunday.
The police let him off late in the evening, saying no case was registered against him.
Mr. Scialla, according to his Twitter profile and website, has reported on environmental conflicts and social issues for leading global media organisations, including The Guardian and Al Jazeera.
A local resident, Prince Cardoza, who helped Mr. Scialla as an interpreter during his meeting with residents of villages surrounding the Sterlite plant, was also detained for a while late on Saturday.
Thoothukudi Superintendent of Police Murali Rambha said Mr. Scialla had arrived in India on a tourist visa and was working on Sterlite-related issues.
Mr. Scialla was questioned for a few hours at the office of the town DSP. He planned to stay in Thoothukudi till January 3, while his visa is valid until January 21, the police said.
He arrived in Thoothukudi on the night of December 27 and stayed at a hotel, met a few anti-Sterlite activists, victims of the police firing and then visited Pandarampattialong with Mr. Cardoza on Saturday.
Mr. Cardoza, a member of the Anti-Sterlite People’s Movement, was let off around 1 a.m.
Meanwhile, members of the movement staged a road blockade in support of Mr Cardoza. They dispersed subsequently.
Quizzed about intentions
Mr. Scialla told The Hindu over the phone that he had been detained by the police for around seven hours and questioned for about four hours. He was asked what he was doing in the town, who he had met, what his intentions were and whether he was inciting local people.
“They told me I was breaking a rule by coming in on a tourist visa,” he said. “But that’s the only way to report the story.”
He said that the police took away his phone, tablet and computer, and asked him to give them access to the devices, but he had refused; they also asked to look at his Facebook account, but his page reveals nothing about his work. The devices were later returned to him.
Mr. Scialla said he was accompanied back to his hotel by police personnel; he said that there were police personnel on the hotel premises.
They told him that pro-Sterlite people in the city knew he was in town and were watching him, and that the police personnel would stay, ostensibly to protect him.
Mr. Scialla said he had contacted the U.S. embassy, which had advised him to sit tight and also asked the police, over speakerphone, to protect him.