The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) strongly condemns the efforts of the Tamil Nadu police and the Tamil Nadu unit of the BJP to harass and intimidate journalists Sandhya Ravishankar, D Anandhakumar and M Sriram from Chennai by falsely accusing them of “espionage” and “anti-national activities” in Kanyakumari.

Sandhya Ravishankar, a veteran journalist and member of the NWMI, is being falsely accused by the BJP’s state unit of being “a criminal mastermind” while Anandhakumar and Sriram are being accused of “aiding and abetting French spies”, a ridiculous and untenable charge thrust on journalists who were merely doing their job.

These are the facts of the matter: Sandhya Ravishankar, a journalist who has filed several investigative reports into illegal beach sand mining in Tamil Nadu, was contacted by the accredited French journalists Jules Giraudat and Arthur Bouvart, who were looking to follow up her reports for ‘Forbidden Stories’, non-profit project founded by Freedom Voices Network which focusses on investigative stories. Since it was too dangerous for Ravishankar to travel to the region in the light of the continuous harassment she has faced from sand miners, she put them in touch with Anandhakumar, who met them with Sriram, to act as translators.

While in Kanyakumari, the two French journalists, accompanied by a local priest who had invited them, went to visit Indian Rare Earths Limited to meet the priest’s acquaintance working there. None of the Indian journalists accompanied them. On being asked to leave since they did not have the requisite permissions, the French journalists did so immediately. There was no filming on the premises at any point.

While the French journalists left the country soon after, their Indian colleagues have been victims of a barrage of false charges and accusations, both from the police and the BJP. Anandhakumar and Sriram were illegally detained by the Kanyakumari police for two days and labelled as “anti-nationals”, a term loosely used these days to intimidate and threaten people. Ravishankar believes she is being targeted because of the extensive investigative work she has undertaken to expose the illegal beach sand mining in the region. It is condemnable that the state, instead of protecting a journalist who has revealed rampant corruption and losses to the government, is instead harassing her. Two of the journalists have had to secure anticipatory bail to protect themselves against harassment by the police.

Even more shocking is that a Union Minister of State for Finance and Shipping and Shipping, Pon Radhakrishnan, is propagating the fake news that they had “arrived by sea to spy on the Kanyakumari port” and were “traitors” to the country and had “stolen national secrets”. See video here.

The NWMI calls upon:

·         The Tamil Nadu police to desist from harassing journalists and stop the witch-hunt to which they are being subjected.

·         The BJP to ask its members to cease false propaganda and innuendo against journalists who were doing their job.

Journalists need the freedom to investigate and report on stories of public interest –whether illegal sand mining or corrpuption– and hold those in power accountable – a free press, is after all, one of the cornerstones of a democracy, without which it would be reduced to a farce.

We stand with the journalists in their fight for the truth.