Defender of “The Freedom to Write” fears Indian government would punish reporter for critical coverage of PM Narendra Modi.
In the Summer of 2019, when New York based journalist Aatish Taseer’s scathing but thought-provoking article on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi titled, “India’s divider-in-Chief” appeared in TIME magazine, it drew critical attention.
As was expected, the story by the son of an Indian mother, journalist Tavleen Singh and Pakistani father, politician and businessman Salman Taseer, evoked extreme responses from Modi supporters who went on to question Taseer’s credibility.
But despite the fact that Modi achieved a stunning victory in the Indian elections less than two months later, for Taseer his journalistic work seems to haunt him constantly.
On Thursday, in perhaps a first-ever publicized case, the government of India cancelled the OCI or Overseas Citizen of India card of the Britain-born journalist. An OCI status allows foreign citizens of Indian heritage to live and work in India indefinitely.
After a series of tweets, accusing Taseer of hiding crucial information that his father was a Pakistani, the Consulate General of India in New York, informed Taseer in an e-mail that the Indian government has cancelled his OCI card, effective immediately.
Shortly after the announcement, PEN America, New York headquartered non-profit that works towards ensuring free expression in the US as well as worldwide released a statement in support of journalist Aatish Taseer.
“In what appears to be retaliation for a TIME magazine article critical of the Indian government, journalist and writer Aatish Taseer has been threatened with revocation of a key citizenship document that would limit his ability to work and live in India,” it stated.
PEN America called it “a worrying move by the government to punish a reporter for coverage critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
While there had been an ongoing vitriolic campaign on Taseer in the social media, the notice to revoke caught many by surprise.
“Once granted, the OCI card can only be cancelled under limited circumstances whose narrow criteria have not been met in this case. If an individual’s card is canceled, they can also be placed on a blacklist preventing their future entry into India,” PEN America said.
“Taseer responded to the notice but never received an official reply from the Indian Home Ministry. However, on November 7, the Ministry announced in a series of tweets that Taseer had hidden information about his late father’s nationality and had failed to challenge their notice; Taseer disputes both claims.”
“Harassing critical writers and journalists not just in India but globally is a disturbing new low for Modi’s government that’s already put Indian democracy on its heels,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America.
“Revoking Aatish Taseer’s citizenship document — which would in effect also ban him from visiting his childhood home and seeing his mother and grandmother — is a cruelly personal and vindictive way to punish a journalist for their critical coverage,” he said. “We call on the Indian government to cease their judicial harassment of Taseer immediately and allow him to keep his OCI card.”