Australian Journalist Says She Had No Choice But to Leave India

Australian Journalist Says She Had No Choice But to Leave India

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A senior journalist with Australia’s national broadcaster says she was effectively pushed out of India after her reporting on Sikh separatism angered the Indian government, accusing the authorities of hindering her from going to events, seeking to have her reporting taken down and refusing for weeks to renew her visa.

Avani Dias, the South Asia correspondent for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, said on social media that Indian officials told her last month 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 “crossed the line.”

She was eventually granted a temporary visa extension at the last minute after lobbying by the Australian government, less than a day before she was scheduled to leave the country, Ms. Dias said in her podcast, “Looking for Modi.” But she said that she ultimately decided to leave because “it felt too difficult to do my job in India.”

“I was struggling to get into public events run by Modi’s party,” Ms. Dias said on the podcast, which was about Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Indian government has disputed Ms. Dias’ account and said she was assured by high ranking officials that her visa would be renewed.

Her departure came amid a broader crackdown on free speech in the country and raids on journalists reporting on sensitive topics. During his 10 years leading the nation, Mr. Modi has consolidated power in India and across its institutions, challenging the founding principles of modern India, like secularism and freedom of the press. He is seeking a third term in parliamentary elections that begun this month.

In March, Ms. Dias produced a television segment about the accusations made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada last year that agents acting on behalf of the Indian government were behind the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist, on Canadian soil. The half-hour documentary examined the movement, which advocates for a separate Sikh state called Khalistan to be carved out of the Indian state of Punjab.

During the half-hour documentary, which was broadcast in Australia and uploaded on social media, she detailed how permission for her and her crew to film at the border between Punjab and Pakistan had suddenly been revoked by Indian officials without explanation, and how she had been quizzed by Indian officials about her crew and the places she had visited to report on the story.

“It’s clear that we’re being really monitored and that there’s concern about the story that we’re doing,” she said.

On March 26, less than a week after the documentary was broadcast, the Indian government successfully sought to have YouTube block the video from showing in India.

The next day, Ms. Dias was told by a representative of the Ministry of External Affairs that her application for a visa extension would not be renewed, according to a person directly familiar with the situation but who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue. Ms. Dias notified the Australian government, and Australian diplomats began to lobby for her visa, the person said.

After weeks of bureaucratic back and forth, Ms. Dias received her visa extension on the evening of Apr. 18, the person said. But with her flight back to Australia departing the next day, and having already packed up her life in India, she made the decision to leave, Ms. Dias said in her podcast. She left on the first day of voting in India’s national election.

A senior Indian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, refuted her account, saying Ms. Dias had been told well in advance that her visa would be extended.

The official said that Ms. Dias had violated terms of her previous visa by attempting to film at the India-Pakistan border, which requires permission. Ms. Dias previously said she had sought and been granted that permission before it was revoked at the last minute.

Ms. Dias had not been prevented from covering India’s election, but had her accreditation delayed because she had not yet received her visa extension, the Indian official said, adding that her colleagues at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation had been given accreditation to cover the elections.

Ms. Dias’ departure adds to mounting concerns about press freedom in India, where Indian journalists have come under heavy pressure from the Modi administration.

Foreign journalists in India are reporting more pressure, as well. In February, Vanessa Dougnac, a French freelance correspondent, said she had been forced to leave India, where she had lived for 25 years, after the authorities told her that they intended to withdraw her permanent residency permit.

The authorities accused her of producing reporting that was “malicious and critical in manner,” and creating a “biased negative perception about India.” They said that she had worked as a journalist without holding a valid permit, after revoking her work permit in September 2022 without a clear reason.



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