French jour­nal­ists la­belled spies over min­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion

Gulf Times - - INDIA -

Two French jour­nal­ists have been la­belled spies and are the sub­ject of a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter they tried to re­port on sand min­ing in south In­dia - an as­sign­ment they took up be­cause In­dian jour­nal­ists had been threat­ened for re­port­ing on the is­sue.

The pair, Arthur Bou­vart and Jules Gi­rau­dat, ar­rived in Tamil Nadu in Novem­ber to in­ves­ti­gate the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of min­ing sand, a re­source that has be­come scarce and in­creas­ingly lu­cra­tive amid a decades-long Asian con­struc­tion boom.

The jour­nal­ists, who were in In­dia on tourist visas, work for For­bid­den Sto­ries, a newly formed me­dia project that pur­sues sto­ries other re­porters have been killed, jailed or threat­ened over.

Tamil Nadu has al­legedly been the site of ram­pant il­le­gal ex­trac­tion of sand and other beach min­er­als, which ac­tivists es­ti­mate could have cost the state ex­che­quer at least $300mn in lost rev­enues.

In­dian jour­nal­ist Sand­hya Rav­is­hankar says she was stalked and ha­rassed last year af­ter pub­lish­ing a se­ries of in­ves­tiga­tive re­ports into the in­dus­try, which she al­leged was al­lowed to op­er­ate il­le­gally by col­lud­ing with state and fed­eral of­fi­cials.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port filed by the Tamil Nadu po­lice, Bou­vart and Gi­rau­dat en­tered a fa­cil­ity be­long­ing to In­dian Rare Earths Lim­ited (IREL), a na­tional min­ing agency, and spent five min­utes on the premises be­fore they were asked to leave the “pro­hib­ited place”.

The po­lice doc­u­ment says the men, ac­com­pa­nied by a lo­cal priest, were per­mit­ted to en­ter the premises by a se­cu­rity guard, did not film in­side and left when asked to do so.

Gi­rau­dat told the Guardian he and Bou­vart had gone di­rectly to the site’s man­ager’s of­fice. “We asked if we could make a visit, they said no, asked us to leave and we left,” he said.

Both left In­dia be­fore po­lice started their en­quiries. They are be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for tres­pass­ing and visa vi­o­la­tions.

Two In­dian jour­nal­ists, D Anand­haku­mar and M Sri­ram, who had been as­sist­ing the French jour­nal­ists with trans­la­tion – but did not ac­com­pany them to IREL – were held by po­lice for two days with­out ex­pla­na­tion, and re­leased af­ter their de­ten­tion be­came the sub­ject of me­dia in­quiries. They have been asked to re­turn to as­sist po­lice with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and fear they could be charged.

A lo­cal unit of the Bharatiya Janata party has put posters up in the area where IREL is based, warn­ing: “There are French spies in Kanyaku­mari district. Peo­ple be­ware.” Min­is­ter of State for Ship­ping Pon Rad­hakr­ish­nan also told re­porters last week the two jour­nal­ists were spies who had ar­rived in In­dia via “the sea route”.

A re­port re­leased yes­ter­day by Ar­ti­cle 19, a group that cam­paigns for free­dom of ex­pres­sion and in­for­ma­tion, said such rights had de­clined more steeply in In­dia in the past four years than al­most any other coun­try.

“Seven jour­nal­ists were killed last year,” the group’s re­port said. “Jour­nal­ists have been sub­jected to on­line smear cam­paigns and threats by Hindu na­tion­al­ists, con­tribut­ing to a cli­mate of self-cen­sor­ship.”

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