Do you keep writing, do you stop, do you leave? These are the questions that many foreign journalists in India are asking themselves as the governmental environment gets increasingly hostile. Vanessa Dougnac, a French journalist who had been living in India for 25 years, was forced to return to France earlier this month after being threatened in January with being stripped of her residence permit and being refused press accreditation 18 months ago.

In India, more and more journalists fear suffering the same fate, while abroad, journalists of Indian origin stop covering India in order to be able to keep visiting as tourists. In a sign of the climate of fear that has taken hold within the media community, almost all of the people interviewed by RSF for this investigation insisted on not being identified by name.

The Overseas Citizen of India card (OCI) is a lifetime residence permit issued to foreigners of Indian origin or to the spouses of Indian citizens. Its original aim was to encourage members of the Indian diaspora to become more involved in India, but it has turned into a tool for controlling their movements and activities in India.

Since 2019, someone who is stripped of their OCI status “will also be blacklisted preventing his/her future entry into India,” says a Ministry of Home Affairs document that now acts as a permanent threat hanging over “OCI journalists” in India.

“You’re given the idea that you have that option to build up your life here and everything stops suddenly,” said one OCI journalist resident in India.

“The interviews conducted by RSF show that journalists are in effect being blackmailed in connection with the granting or withdrawal of the OCI status that allows them to move about freely in India. In the end, fear of losing this status induces some to censor themselves or give up practicing their profession. By exerting pressure on their citizen rights, the Indian authorities are surreptitiously targeting their work as journalists.”

Arnaud Froger – head of RSF’s investigation desk

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