TN police to deport US journo for visa violation

Chennai: A day after a US-based journalist was questioned by police for interviewing people at Tuticorin over the Sterlite plant issue, authorities are exploring legal options, including filing a case and deporting him while probing alleged violation of visa rules.

Mark Scialla, a freelance journalist from the USA interviewed a host of people on 28 and 29 December in and around Tuticorin, the Anti-Sterlite Movement’s (ASM) Prince Cardoza, who helped him as an interpreter, said. The journalist, who arrived in that coastal town on Thursday, posed questions to them on the “health issues” they faced before and after the closure of Sterlite’s shut copper plant at Tuticorin and also met a victim of the May 2018 police firing (who sustained a bullet injury), he said.

A senior police officer told PTI that all legal options were being looked at, including registration of a case and deporting him. Such options were being examined and at the same time, the probe into the violation of visa norms was still on, the officer said.

Mark Scialla

A foreigner on a tourist visa cannot do journalistic work as per norms, and it was tantamount to breaking visa rules, he said.

Tuticorin District Collector Sandeep Nandurai told reporters that appropriate legal action would be initiated after the probe by police, who are ascertaining if Scialla “violated visa norm” and the “kind of violation” he committed.

Police was also looking into several aspects, including on whose invitation he was here and the kind of work he did here during his stay, the Collector said.

The police official said that the enquiry of local people who interacted with the US national was still not complete. They were being questioned on the basis of what Scialla had told police in connection with his work, he said. “As a tourist, Mark is free to go anywhere, but he cannot interview people and he has agreed to follow the rules,” the official said to question.

Despite repeated attempts, Mark could not be reached for his comment; he neither answered text message nor a phone call. The hotel where he stays at Tuticorin, however, confirmed that he continued to stay there.

According to Mark’s twitter handle, he is an “independent writer and video journalist covering environmental conflict and social issues.” When contacted, a U S Consulate spokesperson here said “We are aware of media reports concerning the American citizen. However, due to privacy laws, we do not comment on matters involving U S citizens.”

Prince told PTI that police took him around Tuticorin for several hours on Saturday night in a vehicle before he was eventually questioned for helping Scialla. He said he received a summons from police on Monday to appear within hours.

However, he said he has replied that he would appear “at the earliest,” and not today. Fatima Babu, another leading anti-Sterlite activist said it was not their task to check under what visa a foreigner had arrived.

She led an agitation when police detained Prince for several hours for questioning. On 15 December, the National Green Tribunal set aside the Tamilnadu government order for closure of mining company Vedanta Ltd’s sterlite copper plant at Tuticorin, which was at the centre of massive protests over alleged pollution, saying it was “non sustainable” and “unjustified.”

Thirteen people were killed in police firing on 22-23 May and several injured after the protests against Sterlite turned violent in Tuticorin.