French journalist claims ‘asked to leave India’, forbidden from covering general elections | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

French journalist claims ‘asked to leave India’, forbidden from covering general elections

Jun 20, 2024 05:03 PM IST

Sébastien Farcis said that on March 7, the MHA refused to renew his journalist permit and informed him about the rejection to cover the general elections

French journalist Sébastien Farcis on Thursday claimed that he was “forced to leave” India and forbidden from covering the 2024 general elections after the Union ministry of home affairs refused to renew his permit, the second such claim in four months by a journalist from France.

The ministry of home affairs in New Delhi. (HT File Photo)
The ministry of home affairs in New Delhi. (HT File Photo)

“On 17th June, I was forced to leave India, a country where I had lived and worked as a journalist for 13 years, as a South Asia correspondent for Radio France Internationale, Radio France, Libération and the Swiss and Belgian public radios,” Farcis said in a post on X on Thursday.

Farcis said that on March 7, the MHA refused to renew his journalist permit and informed him about the rejection to cover the general elections.

“This appeared to me as an incomprehensible censorship,” he wrote, stating that he had been working in India as a journalist since 2011 and had obtained all the necessary visas and accreditations. “I have…never worked in restricted or protected areas without a permit. On several occasions, the MHA even granted me permits to report from border areas,” he wrote.

This move, he claims, has an impact on his family as well because he is married to an Indian woman and thus has Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) status.

“This denial comes as a worrying context of increasing restrictions on the work of foreign journalists: after Vanessa Dougnac, I am the second French journalist in four months having to leave India under these conditions. At least five OCI foreign correspondents have been banned from working as journalists in less than two years,” Farcis wrote.

Farcis has said to have filed an appeal “against the denial of renewal of Special permission to undertake any journalistic activity under Section 15(1) of the Citizenship Act, 1955, by the OCI Cell, FRRO Delhi” with the MHA’s Foreigners Division on April 5. In the appeal, he mentioned that he had been an OCI card holder since January 8, 2021, and was working as a journalist on ‘Journalist Visa’ since 2011. In the appeal, he also wrote that he applied for renewal of ‘journalistic license’ on August 9, 2023, but was informed on March 7, 2024, that it had been denied. No reasons were cited, he claimed.

“It is important to mention that I was also not given any opportunity to explain any objections or concerns that may have been the basis for the denial of permission for renewal of my journalism licence,” he wrote in the appeal. Citing his OCI card number, he wrote, “I am committed to my association with India and to ensuring that my journalistic activities contribute positively to the public discourse and awareness.”

In the appeal, Farcis said that he is the South Asia correspondent and bureau chief of the French public national broadcaster Radio France and its world service radio France Internationale. He also mentioned that he is a former secretary of the Foreign Correspondents Club of South Asia.

His employers, Radio France, Radio France International and Libération (a French daily) reportedly wrote to French ambassador to India, Thierry Mathou, on March 18, in which the directors of the three organisations expressed their surprise over the non-renewal of his work permit. “In our eyes, this is incomrehensible and a clear infringement of the right to inform,” they said.

They further said, “We have vigourously protested to the Indian authorities and ask for your support so that this decision is reconsidered”, adding that they even informed Stéphane Séjourné, the French minister for Europe and foreign affairs.

The aforementioned employers wrote a similar letter to the Indian High Commission in Paris, Farcis said, where they said they have “parallelly informed French authorities of this situation”.

HT has seen a copy of the appeal, and the letter sent to the French ambassador to India. HT has reached out to the French Embassy in Delhi, and the Indian High Commission in Paris for more information.

Farcis’s wife, who is an Indian, is with him in France, he told HT.

HT has reached out to the MHA for a response.

Dougnac was reportedly asked to leave India on February 16 after 23 years of working in the country as a journalist. She too was married to a man from India (Haryana) and has a son, according to a report by the Outlook. In January, she reportedly received a notice from the MHA accusing her of writing articles that were “malicious”, and harming “the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India”. The notice, she reportedly said, required her to respond as to why her OCI card should not be cancelled.

In April, Australian journalist Avani Dias, who worked in India as the South Asia bureau chief for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), claimed that she was forced to leave the country as the government told her an extension of her visa would be denied as her reporting “crossed a line”, and that she would not be allowed to cover the general elections.

However, a government official later rebuffed her version of the events. Eventually, Dias tweeted that she had got a two-month extension after the Australian government intervened, but she was still not permitted to cover the Indian elections.

The NDA government cancelled at least 102 OCI cards between 2014 and May 2023, digital publication Article14 reported in February, citing Right to Information responses.

OCI, a status created in 2005 under the Citizenship Act, 1955, allows foreign citizens of Indian origin or foreigners married to Indian citizens, to enter India without a visa. It also allows them to reside, work and own property.

In 2019, journalist and British citizen Aatish Taseer lost his OCI status after his profile of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with the headline ‘India’s divider in chief’, was published in TIME magazine. At that time, the MHA had said in a statement that Taseer suppressed information that his late father was of Pakistani origin.

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