The Kanyakumari police authorities illegally detained two journalists from Tamil Nadu on 28 and 29 November 2018.
D Anandhakumar and M Sriram, who are both Chennai-based journalists, were assisting two French investigative journalists Arthur Bouvart and Jules Giraudat in documenting the threats to journalists reporting on illegal beach sand mining in the state.
The four of them had visited Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts.
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 at this point that the French journalists intended to visit IREL or that they had already entered the premises; they were in their respective hotel rooms when 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.
Later in the day, around 12:30 PM, Anand and Sriram met with the French journalists 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-based journalists realised what had happened.
After a series of calls from unknown persons, all of them decided it was time to pack their bags and leave. The two French journalists returned to Paris via Trivandrum and Mumbai, while Anand and Sriram returned to Chennai on the morning of 27 November 2018.
Throughout the day on 27 November 2018, Anand and Sriram continued to receive calls from Kanyakumari DSP Bhaskaran. He demanded over the phone that they arrive in person by 28 November 2018 (the next day) and said that they would be allowed to return to Chennai the same day after giving their statement. They were told that it was only an enquiry.
Both Anand and Sriram left Chennai—voluntarily—on the night of 27 November 2018 and arrived in Kanyakumari the next morning (28 November 2018) and met DSP Bhaskaran in his office at 11 am.
An enquiry took place with representatives from the Intelligence Bureau, state Intelligence, Q Branch, CID and other agencies, with the DSP acting as the investigating officer. In the middle of the enquiry, the two French journalists made a video call via WhatsApp to Anand’s mobile phone and spoke to the DSP. They explained their credentials as journalists and 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, during which 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 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 actually working with French journalists on the impacts of illegal beach sand mining.
After this, Anand and Sriram were asked to write a statement and sign it, to which they complied. But by around 3 pm, the duo was taken to room number 412 in Sun World Hotel—and locked up. Their mobiles were taken away. They were brought back to the DSP’s office six hours later—that too only after several concerned journalists persistently called the police asking why had they been illegally detained in the first place. Subsequently, the duo was taken to Kanyakumari police station.
Following this, Sriram was allowed to go back to the Hotel while Anand continued to be detained illegally at Kanyakumari police station. He did not have access to his mobile phone.
Alarmed by the number of calls that began pouring in from journalists across the country, who were demanding to know from the DSP and local Kanyakumari police as to why Anand was being detained illegally, the police returned Anand’s mobile phone to him at around 1.30am and dropped him back at the Hotel around 3am where he and Sriram stayed the night—along with four policemen sitting inside the room as they slept.
The next day, 29 November 2018, the duo was once again taken to the DSP’s office and were asked to sign summons stating that they would appear before the police for questioning on the same day at 2 pm. However, 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—but only after DSP Bhaskaran claimed that they were not in police custody.
Anand and Srira returned to Chennai by around 10 pm on the same night.
Subsequently, the Kanyakumari police, instead of stating facts, have stated the two French journalists were “spies.” This has been reported widely in the vernacular and English media. Kanyakumari SP R Shree Nath and DSP Bhaskaran, both have gone on record with an assorted variety of contradictory versions—and insist that the two Tamil Nadu journalists were present along with the French journalists when they entered the premises of IREL.
The Manavalakuruchi police has also booked the two French journalists under Section 447 (punishment for criminal trespass) of the IPC, along with sections 14(A) (penalty for for entry in restricted areas), 14(B) (penalty for using forged passport) and 14(C) (penalty for abetment) of the Foreigners Act.