A US-based freelance journalist Mark Scialla was detained by the district police on Sunday and questioned about his whereabouts and intentions behind interviewing people in relation to Tuticorin’s Sterlite Plant. He was let off on the same day but officials have said that they are planning to deport him back.
According to reports, Scilla came to India on Tourist Visa and stayed in a hotel, before he started meeting anti-Sterlite protestors. He also interviewed people who claimed to be victims of the police firing on Anti-Sterlite agitations that happened in May last year. Prince Cardoza, one of the leaders of the Anti-Sterlite movement, who was also detained on Saturday, acted as an interpreter for the journalists.
The Twitter profile of Journalist, reveals that he has previously served for The Guardian and the Al Jazeera. However, he has denied dispersing any information collected so far to any journal related to the interviews he did. Reports say that he posed questions to the so-called ‘victims’ about the health issues they faced by the plant and if the closure of the plant provided some respite. According to The Hindu, the journalist was asked questions about why and who he was interviewing and for what purpose. He was asked whether he was inciting locals and trying to harm the peace in the area. Tuticorin People Welfare Lawyers Federation has expressed scepticism over the journalist’s whereabouts and has alleged that he has come to incite people against the plant.
During detention, police confiscated all the gadgets and asked for access, but the journalist reportedly refused. Police informed that he had arrived on the Tourist visa, and cannot go about interviewing people in relation to the plant. Police have said that they are planning to file a case, and deport him back for contravening norms of the tourist visa.
The case was quickly escalated to US Embassy in India by Mark, which has so far refused to divulge any information related to the case. But, reports say that the embassy has asked the police to protect him. The journalist has also, raised concerns of safety to police. He said that he can be a target of local pro-Sterlite group members. Police have assigned personnel to accompany the journalist everywhere.
“As a tourist, Mark is free to go anywhere, but he cannot interview people and he has agreed to follow the rules,” an official was quoted by reports.
The Sterlite plant has again hit headlines recently after The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court ordered ‘status quo’ in Sterlite Copper plant case, staying the National Green Tribunal’s permission of reopening it.
The protesting NGOs and pressure groups had accused the Sterlite plant of contaminating the local environment by discharging various harmful waste, an allegation that the company claimed was baseless. In May 2018, police shot dead 12 protestors, who were taking part in the agitation against the copper producing plant.
This had promoted Tamil Nadu’s AIADMK government to permanently ban the copper plant. However, the order was revered by NGT’s order, which said that the Vedanta group was denied proper time to defend the case.