The Tamil Nadu Police on Tuesday detained two journalists and a cameraperson reporting on protests against the proposed Chennai-Salem expressway. Malayalam TV channel Mathrubhumi’s reporter Anoop Das, the channel’s cameraperson Murugan and Tamil newspaper Theekathir’s reporter Ramadass were detained near Tiruvannamalai, The News Minute reported.

Centre of Indian Trade Unions Tiruvannamalai district Vice President Anandan Vasu was also detained. The four were taken to the Tiruvannamalai taluk police station. Later, the Mathrubhumi crew was released, but Ramdass and Vasu remained in custody.

Das sent the senior editors at Mathrubhumi a video, after which he and Murugan were released. The police claimed they did not know the two were journalists.

“We were arrested by the police when we were covering the protest here,” Das said in the video, taken from a police vehicle. “One Theekkathir reporter has also been arrested along with us. We were not allowed to take our car, the police have not given us any reason for why they have arrested us. They called us to their car and used physical force to arrest us.”

Mathrubhumi News Input Editor V Harilal told The News Minute that their team was merely covering the protest. “Our reporting team had no other intention but to cover the protest. The police told them that the superintendent of police [R Ponni] wanted to see them,” he said. “The reporter and the camera men followed the police. But the police arrested them forcefully when Ponni was standing near them.”

But Ponni claimed the journalists should have come to the police station after being asked to do so. “How will the police know they are journalists? They kept saying they are from Kerala. How will we know?” she said. When asked why the crew was detained even though they had identity cards, she answered: “Many people have a camera these days.”

Mathrubhumi’s Harilal alleged that the crew were not given the opportunity to show their press cards. He said Mathrubhumi would pursue the matter legally and file a complaint with the Tamil Nadu government.

The protests

The Rs 10,000 crore expressway project has faced massive opposition, especially from farmers, as thousands of hectares of agricultural land and several hectares of forest land – cutting across five districts and eight reserved forests – have to be acquired.

Activist Piyush Manush, actor Mansoor Ali Khan, and student activist Valarmathi were arrested on June 18 for protesting against the project. The opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam last week warned the Tamil Nadu government of statewide protests if the police conduct random searches and arrest villagers agitating against government projects.

Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami claimed on Tuesday that only a few farmers had opposed the acquisition of land. “Four to five among 100 farmers are refusing to give their land,” he told reporters at Salem airport.