Besides two Tamil Nadu based journalists, two French journalists were called spies and named in the FIR by Kanyakumari Police. Investigative journalist Sandhya Ravishankar, who wrote a four-part exposé on illegal sand mining and mafia is also facing threats.
Image Courtesy: The News Minute
Chennai: Two journalists from Tamil Nadu were illegally detained by the Kanyakumari Police on 28 and 29 November for helping two French reporters look into illegal beach and sand mining.
The media fraternity called the arrest of D Anandhakumar and M Sriram, both journalists from Chennai, an attempt by the Kanyakumari Police "to peddle a false narrative on an issue involving media freedom.”
Deputy editor Jules Giraudat and investigative journalist Arthur Bouvart, both French journalists from the Freedom Voices Network Team were labelled as ‘French Spies’ and 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. They asked the Tamil Nadu Government to ensure that the freedom of the news media in the State is protected in letter and in spirit.
IREL is the central government's beach sand mining agency. It falls under the purview of the Department of Atomic Energy.
Journalist Sandhya Ravishankar, who wrote the four-part exposé in The Wire on the illegal sand mining in the state and the sand mafia, said 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 said.
Ravishankar is known for reporting on illegal sand mining and has been facing harassment, intimidation, violation of privacy and stalking because of her investigative journalism.
"The Kanyakumari Police are planting vicious and slanderous stories attempting to connect me with an alleged 'plot to steal national secrets'," she said in a statement. "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,” she added.
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."
She narrated the entire incident in her statement and said that the “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.”
Full text of Ravishankar’s statement:
The Kanyakumari police, seemingly at the behest of Mr S Vaikundarajan, appear to be attempting to foist false charges against me in a bid to arrest and incarcerate me.
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.
The Kanyakumari police are planting vicious and slanderous stories attempting to connect me with an alleged “plot to steal national secrets”. 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. The Kanyakumari police appear to be playing into the hands of vested interests. Despite evidence to the contrary, they appear to be bent on building a fake narrative of alleged “espionage”.
The truth is that the Kanyakumari police illegally detained two Tamil Nadu journalists on 28 and 29 November 2018.
Further, the Kanyakumari police is attempting, for reasons, best known to itself, to peddle a false narrative in an issue involving these journalists.
D Anandhakumar and M Sriram, both journalists from Chennai, had visited Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts along with two French investigative journalists. They were assisting the French journalists Arthur Bouvart and Jules Giraudat in documenting the threats to journalists reporting on illegal beach sand mining in the state.
On the morning of 26 November 2018, the two French journalists, along with a local parish priest, Father Kildoss met an official at the Indian Rare Earths Limited. Neither Anand nor Sriram, were aware that the French journalists intended to visit IREL or that they had entered the premises. They were in their hotel rooms while the priest and the two French journalists met with IREL officials.
IREL is the Central government’s beach sand mining agency and comes under the purview of the Department of Atomic Energy. It is a prohibited and high-security zone.
Anand and Sriram met with the French journalists at around 12.30 pm elsewhere in Kanyakumari district. It is only after the priest told them that the three of them (the priest and both French journalists) had entered IREL, that the Tamil Nadu journalists realised what had happened.
After a barrage of calls from unknown persons, all of them decided it was time to wind up and leave. The French journalists returned to Paris via Trivandrum and Mumbai. Both Anand and Sriram returned to Chennai in the early hours of 27 November 2018.
Through the day on 27 November 2018, Anand and Sriram continued to receive calls from Kanyakumari DSP Bhaskaran. He demanded that they arrive in person by 28 November 2018 and said that they would be allowed to return to Chennai the same day after giving a statement. They were told that it was only an enquiry.
Both Anand and Sriram left Chennai on the night of 27 November 2018 voluntarily and arrived in Kanyakumari on the morning of 28 November 2018. They met DSP Bhaskaran at his office at 11 am.
An enquiry took place with representatives of the Intelligence Bureau, state Intelligence, Q Branch, CID and other agencies, 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 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. DSP Bhaskaran specifically and repeatedly told Anand not to mention anything about illegal beach sand mining or take the name of the key miner VV Mineral. He also “educated” Anand that the coastal erosion had nothing to do with beach sand mining and that it was due to “global warming”. The DSP repeatedly told Anand not to tell the other investigative agencies about the fact that they were, in reality, working with the French journalists on the impacts of illegal beach sand mining.
Anand and Sriram were then asked to write a statement and sign it. They complied. By around 3 pm, the duo was taken to the Sun World Hotel, to room number 412 and locked up, their mobiles 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 they had been illegally detained. Subsequently, they 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 from across the country asking the DSP and the local Kanyakumari police as to why Anand was being detained illegally. Alarmed, the police returned Anand’s mobile phone to him at around 1.30am and dropped him back at the Hotel around 3 am where he and Sriram stayed the night – with four policemen sitting inside the room as they slept.
The next day, 29 November 2018, they 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 pm. Anand refused to sign the papers until a lawyer had vetted the same.
Senior lawyer D Geetha then intervened and the police finally released both the journalists, after DSP Bhaskaran claimed that they were not in police custody.
They returned to Chennai by around 10 pm on the same night.
Subsequently, the Kanyakumari police, instead of stating facts, have spread and planted rumours that the French journalists were “spies” and this has been reported widely in the vernacular and English media. 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.
The questions that the Kanyakumari Police needs to answer are:
1. What is the reason for the contradictory statements and versions issued and planted by the Kanyakumari police in this case?
2. Why were the two Tamil Nadu journalists illegally detained for two days?
3. Why did the Kanyakumari police issue summons to the two Tamil Nadu journalists inside the DSP’s office after two days of illegal detention?
4. Why did the Kanyakumari police insist that the Tamil Nadu journalists must not reveal to other authorities (IB, Intelligence etc) that they had been enquiring about illegal beach sand mining?
5. Why is the Kanyakumari police insisting on keeping alive the narrative that the French journalists were “spies” and planting false information “off the record” to journalists?
6. Why is the Kanyakumari police not releasing the CCTV footage of the IREL which will clearly show that neither Anand nor Sriram were with the French journalists at the premises?
7. Who are the vested interests behind the police peddling such a false and vicious narrative against journalists in an attempt to malign and possibly incarcerate them?
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.