Indian Government Denies Visa Renewal to Australian Journalist Over Sikh Separatist Reporting

Australian journalist Avani Dias forced to leave India after visa renewal denied over critical reporting on Sikh separatist movement, highlighting crackdown on press freedom under Modi's government.

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Indian Government Denies Visa Renewal to Australian Journalist Over Sikh Separatist Reporting

Indian Government Denies Visa Renewal to Australian Journalist Over Sikh Separatist Reporting

Avani Dias, the South Asia correspondent for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), was denied a visa renewal for weeks by Indian authorities due to her reporting on the Sikh separatist movement. Dias said Indian officials told her that her application for a resident journalist visa extension would not be approved because a television segment she had produced on accusations that India was responsible for the killing of a Sikh activist in Canada had "gone beyond acceptable limits."

The Indian government eventually granted Dias a temporary two-month visa extension at the last minute after lobbying by the Australian government. However, Dias decided to leave India because she felt it was too difficult to do her work under the circumstances. The Indian government has disputed Dias' account and said she was assured by high-ranking officials that her visa would be renewed.

Why this matters: The case of Dias highlights a broader crackdown on free speech and press freedom in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's leadership. Foreign journalists in India have faced increased restrictions on visas and journalism permits when reporting on sensitive topics.

Dias was also denied the necessary accreditation to cover India's general elections. Her departure came just as India began its six-week-long electoral process. At least 15 foreign journalists in India signed a statement condemning the treatment of their colleague.

The incident follows the recent forced departures of French journalist Vanessa Dougnac and the denial of entry for British Kashmiri academic Nitasha Kaul, both of whom had reported critically on India. The Press Club of India raised concerns that the incident with Dias raises doubts about India's democratic traditions and tarnishes the functioning of free press" in the country.

India's press freedom ranking dropped to 161 out of 180 countries in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index. The Foreign Correspondents' Club of India has stated that while journalists must obey rules, the government has been criticized for not engaging in constructive dialogue to protect journalists' rights. As one of the statements from foreign journalists in India noted, Dias' case underscores "a troubling pattern" where foreign correspondents "often face harassment and pressure when covering sensitive topics."

Key Takeaways

  • ABC journalist Avani Dias denied visa renewal in India due to reporting on Sikh separatists.
  • India granted Dias a temporary 2-month visa after Australian govt lobbying, but she left India.
  • Dias' case highlights crackdown on press freedom under PM Modi, foreign journalists face restrictions.
  • Dias denied accreditation to cover India's elections, at least 15 foreign journalists condemned her treatment.
  • India's press freedom ranking dropped to 161/180 countries, foreign correspondents face harassment.