Two journalists from Tamil Nadu, who went to seek the views of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees on the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), have been booked by the Kanyakumari district police under non-bailable sections. The journalists from the biweekly Tamil magazine Junior Vikatan were at the camps set up in the coastal district to interview Lankan Tamil refugees. The recently passed Citizenship (Amendment) Act excludes Tamil refugees from its ambit.
Two identical FIRs have been filed at the Kaliyakkavilai and Marthandam police stations based on complaints by their respective Village Administrative Officers (VAO), Sasikumaran Thambi and Tamizharasi. The complaint alleges that the journalists— a reporter and photographer— entered the ‘high security’ refugee camp without permission of the taluk officer.
“I went to the refugee camp after I received information that two outsiders entered the camp without permission on December 27 and were instigating the people against the government on the Citizenship Amendment Act. Two people identifying themselves as journalists from Junior Vikatan have spoken in such a way so as to incite a revolution against the government on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. They have spoken in such a way so as to create a division between both parties and foment law and order issues,” identical complaints by both VAOs state.
Following the complaint, the journalists were booked under the non-bailable Indian Penal Code Section 505(1)(b) (Statements conducing to public mischief — with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility) in addition to 188 (Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) and 447 (Punishment for criminal trespass).
The actions of the Kanyakumari police have invited sharp criticism from journalist groups in the state as well as political leaders. Moreover, following the passage of the controversial law, several media houses have presented the views of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who have been languishing in poorly-maintained refugee camps for decades together.
Speaking to TNM, one representative from the magazine points out, “The CAA leaves out Sri Lankan refugees. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami has said that he would continue to demand dual citizenship for the refugees. However, L Ganesan, a BJP leader, has said that the refugees want to return to Sri Lanka where Tamils continue to face persecution. With so many people speaking on their behalf, we wanted to get the views of the refugees on what they wanted. We have spoken to refugees all over the state but it was only in Kanyakumari that there was an issue.”
On Monday, representatives of the Chennai Press Club met with Tamil Nadu Director General of Police JK Tripathy and requested the police to withdraw the case against the journalists.
Slamming the Palaniswami government for slapping non-bailable sections on the journalists, DMK MP Kanimozhi tweeted, “Attacks like these on the press in a democracy must be strongly condemned. I ask that the cases on the media persons be withdrawn immediately.”
The AIADMK had voted for the legislation in both Houses of Parliament, prompting severe criticism from the Opposition. However, Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami has maintained that he would press the Centre to grant dual citizenship for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. Presently, India does not allow dual citizenship.