Delhi-based French reporter forced to leave India in sign of growing crackdown on press freedom

A French journalist who had lived in India for the past 25 years was forced to return to France today, 16 February, after being prevented from working and threatened with expulsion. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the methods used by the Indian authorities to make her leave, which are symptomatic of the growing persecution of journalists in India.

A Delhi-based freelance correspondent since 2001 for such French-language media as the newsweekly Le Point and the newspapers Le Soir and La Croix, Vanessa Dougnac was initially stripped of her work permit in September 2022.

Then, last month, the authorities notified her that they were going to withdraw her status as an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI), a lifetime residency permit granted to foreigners who, like Dougnac, are the spouses of Indian citizens.

She lodged an appeal against this decision but the outcome seemed highly uncertain given the surreal nature of the allegations made against her. The authorities accused her of “malicious and critical” journalistic activities “inimical to the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of India and to the interests of the general public.”

Threatened with deportation and unable to work as a journalist, Dougnac finally boarded a flight bound for France today.

“I am writing these words in tears”, Dougnac wrote in a statement issued just before her departure. “Today, I am leaving India, the country where I came 25 years ago as a student, and where I have worked for 23 years as a journalist. The place where I married, raised my son, and which I call my home. Leaving is not my choice. I am being forced to leave by the government of India."

“Forcing a seasoned professional journalist to leave India after she had been based there for two decades reveals a very dark and deplorable image of what press freedom has become under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. With two months to go to general elections, the vice is tightening on foreign correspondents who try to cover India in a professional manner. We condemn the unacceptable way Vanessa Dougnac has been treated and the use of absurd accusations as a subterfuge to gag and intimidate outspoken reporters. The Indian authorities must guarantee journalists’ safety and freedom to work.

Anne Bocandé
RSF editorial director

As a veteran observer of India and its politics, Dougnac has no doubt about the motives underlying the decision to withdraw her Overseas Citizen of India status.

“I see them as part of a wider effort by the government of India to curb dissent from the OCI community,” she wrote. “The authorities had earlier suggested I should change my profession. But I am a journalist, a profession that I hold dear to my heart, and I cannot agree to give it up because of unproven accusations.”

An oppressive climate has taken hold in the run-up to the general elections in India. This has included growing reprisals against foreign journalists designed to intimidate them and influence what they report.  At least four OCI journalists based in India have had their work permit renewals refused, and two of them have chosen to leave the country.

159/ 180
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