New Delhi, October 26, 2017–Indian regional police on August 27, 2017 harassed an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) crew, and compelled the journalists to delete some of their video footage, according to the channel’s economics correspondent Stephen Long, who was part of the crew.
A producer, cameraperson, local translator, and Long were working in India’s Gujarat state in the port city of Mundra for a documentary on the Adani industrial group, Long told CPJ.
In June 2017, the Adani Group received legal and regulatory clearances to start a $16.5 billion dollar rail and mining project in Australia, according to a report by Livemint. However, the project allegedly threatens to cause significant damage to the Great Barrier Reef, according to a report in The Huffington Post, and has provoked protests in Australia, according to news reports.
The journalist said he and his colleagues were interviewing activists and farmers at a Mundra temple about industrial pollution when officials from Adani asked them to stop filming. The journalists then stopped filming and went back to their hotel.
Later that evening, officials from Gujarat police crime unit showed up at the group’s dinner at their hotel unannounced.
“Initially, the senior policeman told us that ‘these were just formalities and if there were foreign guests in town, we often come to see them,'” Long told CPJ. “They sat down for about 15-20 minutes, wanted to know why we were there…they pressed very hard about the intentions of our story, and why we were there,” he said.
The officers came in and out of the hotel restaurant at regular intervals until about 4 a.m. in the morning, Long said. The police told the crew they were leaving to consult with their fellow police officers.
“Each time they came back, it [the questioning] became a little more aggressive, a little more hostile,” Long said.
During the course of the evening, officers demanded to see the television crew’s footage, and then told them to delete 16 gigabytes of the footage, Long said. The officers also told the group that, if they stayed, officers from three intelligence agencies would arrive the next day to see them, Long told CPJ.
Long, the producer, and the cameraperson left Mundra for Mumbai the next day. CPJ was unable to determine what happened to the other members of the filming crew.
The superintendent in Gujarat’s Kutch region, Makrand Shauhan, told CPJ that he “didn’t have the time” to answer questions, and then hung up the phone.
A report in the Indian Express quoted Shauhan as saying that the ABC team were foreign nationals who “were shooting vital installations without permission from the authorities.”
The Adani Group said in a statement, published on TheCitizen.in website, that the ABC team “did not adhere to the journalistic codes of conduct and fairness,” and that the Australian crew lacked proper permissions to film in the area.
Long denied these accusations, and said the crew filmed in public places, which is legal under Indian law.