In what is being seen as police highhandedness and an attempt to intimidate journalists reporting on the arrest of political activist Kovan, Chennai police personnel manhandled journalists at the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate in Chennai on Wednesday. Kovan was brought to the court by the Chennai City Crime Branch for a hearing.
Kovan, who has been arrested on sedition charges for criticising TN CM Jayalalithaa, was brought in to the Egmore court secretly through another entrance, barring him from speaking to the media.
Journalists say that the police stopped them from entering the court and doing their duties. Policewomen also allegedly dragged out lady reporters from inside the court. One of the members of the Anti Gangster Squad of the CCB also reportedly flexed his muscles and tried to intimidate a journalist from entering the court, asking the journalist if he wanted trouble.
According to the journalists present at the spot, uniformed policemen first shutdown the gates outside the court, preventing them from entering the court. Later they were allowed to enter the premises due to protests from reporters. Cameras however were not allowed beyond this point, which the reporters were aware of. You can watch a video sequence here.
When the journalist were entering the court room to listen to the case-hearing, plainclothes policemen blocked them saying that they were not allowed inside.
â€śOne of them asked us, even lawyers have bowed down to us, what are you journalists? Another person even flexed his muscles at a woman journalist, asking if we were looking for a fight,â€ť says Sam Daniel, a senior TV journalist in Chennai.
Amidst this, journalists argued with the policemen and managed to enter the courtroom. After the journalists were allowed to enter, again some policewomen were sent inside to surround the journalists. They blocked the view, and physically pulled out the journalists from inside the court, say journalists.
â€śAnother plainclothes cop was threatening us - saying you can't enter do what you want. One lady officer dragged this News7 reporter out of court,â€ť says Anna Issac, a journalist who was present there.
â€śThere were some members from the Anti-Gangster team from the CCB. They were not in uniform. One guy held my hand to my chest, and told me you cannot go inside, and spoke to me without respect. He even responded asking why he should speak to me with respect,â€ť says Saravanan, a crime reporter with a Tamil news channel.
â€śA woman cop held my hand and tried to drag me out. I said stop touching me,â€ť says another TV journalist Sreesha Reddy, â€śthey were pulling me out.â€ť
â€śThatâ€™s when we raised the voice, and told the magistrate that they are doing this to us. Even women journalists were being manhandled,â€ť says Sam Daniel.
Initially, even the magistrate also did not quite agree with the journalists asking why they wanted to be there, which is when the lawyers in the court room stepped in and argued in favour of the journalists. The judge finally relented and allowed the reporters inside.
â€śJournalists are allowed to cover the proceedings in the Supreme Court and High Court. The police had no business stopping journalists from reporting the proceedings on a sensitive case that is taking place in an open court. I simply don't understand why media is being seen as an enemy. Thanks to the lawyers who intervened and brought the issue to the notice of the court," says Shabbir Ahmed, a TV journalist in Chennai who was present at the court.
Commissioner of Chennai City Police, TK Rajendran told TNM that he is looking into the issue.
The Chennai Press Club and Chennai Union of Journalists have released a statement condemning the highhandedness, stating that the police has no right to stop journalists from doing their duties. They also sought disciplinary action against the police officers who manhandled the journalists.