The Tamil Nadu Police, which has been indiscriminately arresting protesters who have raised their voice against the Chennai-Salem greenfield expressway, has now taken its crackdown a step further. Two reporters and a cameraman were detained in Tiruvannamalai on Tuesday, 26 June, while covering the farmers' protest.
Malayalam TV channel Mathrubhumi’s reporter Anoop Das, the channel's cameraman Murugan, Tamil newspaper Theekathir’s reporter Ramadass and CITU’s (Centre of Indian Trade Unions) Tiruvannamalai district vice-president Anandan Vasu were among those detained by the police.
They were reporting on the farmers’ black flag protests in the district against the Rs 10,000-crore highway project. They were taken to Tiruvannamalai taluk police station.
The police were forced to release the Mathrubhumi crew following media backlash and later told The News Minute that they were not aware that they were detaining journalists. However, Theekathir reporter and the CITU leader had not been released till 3 pm.
Senior editors at Mathrubhumi were alerted about the arrest after Anoop sent them a video.
We were arrested by the police when we were covering the protest here. One Theekkathir reporter has also been arrested along with us. We were not allowed to take our car. The police have not given us any reason for why they have arrested us. They called us to their car and used physical force to arrest us.Anoop in the video
Mathrubhumi News input editor V Harilal made it clear that their team was only covering the protest and causing no other hindrance at the venue.
"Our reporting team had no other intention but to cover the protest. The police told them that the SP wanted to see them. The reporter and the cameramen followed the police. But the police arrested them forcefully when the SP was standing near them," he told The News Minute.
Meanwhile, agitated by the barrage of inquiries over the incident, Tiruvannamalai superintendent of police R Ponni said, “Why can't they come to the police station if called?”
How will the police know they are journalists. They kept saying they are from Kerala. How will we know? We were searching for some other accused there.Tiruvannamalai superintendent of police
The officer added that the reporters sought information from the police. "We will only give information if there is a written request. How can we talk to them when we don't know who they are?”
When asked why the crew was taken as they had identity cards and camera equipment with them, the SP said, "Many people have a camera these days."
However, according to the Malayalam channel, the journalists were not even given a chance to prove their identity.
They were not given time even to show the media identity card, they were not asked anything, they were not informed why they were being arrested. They tried to tell the police that they were from the media, but the police ridiculed them saying that there was no proof for that. The police then sent the photo of the identity card to someone, and after half an half hour they were told that the collector gave permission to release them.V Harilal
“How can it be justified, how could we even know why they were arrested, would the police arrest every unidentified person around them? We suspect that the act was because of the comprehensive coverage we have done on the issue," he adds.
The channel now plans to pursue the matter legally and lodge a complaint with the Tamil Nadu government.
(Published in an arrangement with The News Minute)