‘No reasons or justifications, no hearing’: French journalist ‘forced to leave’ India after notice over OCI card

The government accused Vanessa Dougnac of reportage that creates a ‘biased negative perception of India’.

WrittenBy:Shivnarayan Rajpurohit
Vanessa Dougnac with the home ministry logo.

A month after the union home ministry threatened to withdraw her overseas citizenship of India card, French journalist Vanessa Dougnac issued a statement today saying she was “forced to leave India”.

She said she can’t afford to wait for the outcome of OCI proceedings with the MHA. She left India this afternoon, a source confirmed to Newslaundry.

Her statement started as follows:

“I am being forced to leave by the Government of India. Sixteen months ago, the Ministry of Home Affairs denied my right to work as a journalist, providing no reasons nor justifications, and no hearing. Since then, the Ministry has not once responded to my repeated requests for explanations or review of this arbitrary action.”

Dougnac has lived in India for 23 years and is married to an Indian citizen. A resident of Delhi, she writes for French publications Le Point and La Croix, and Swiss and Belgian daily newspapers Le Temps and Le Soir from south Asia. She was first denied permission to work as a journalist in India in September 2022. Since then, she has reported from neighbouring countries.

Last month, the Foreigners Registration Office sent Dougnac a notice alleging her reportage created a “biased negative perception about India”. It asked why her OCI card shouldn’t be cancelled, claiming she was “undertaking journalistic activities without any special permission as required under Citizenship Act 1955 and rules/regulations issued thereunder”. She was asked to reply to the notice by February 2.

“Last month, I was sent a notice that accused me and my articles of being ‘malicious’, of harming ‘the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India’ and required me to respond to why my Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card should not be cancelled. The notice further claimed that my articles could ‘provoke disorder and disturb peace’,” her statement said.

Dougnac accused the Indian government of “curbing dissent from the OCI community”.

“Today, I am unable to work and have been unfairly accused of prejudicing the interests of the state. It has become clear that I cannot keep living in India and earning my livelihood. I am fighting these accusations before the competent forums and I have full faith in the legal process. But I can’t afford to wait for its outcome. The proceedings with respect to my OCI status have shattered me, especially now that I see them as part of a wider effort by the Government of India to curb dissent from the OCI community.”

She also alleged she was previously asked by authorities to change her profession.

“The authorities had earlier suggested I should change my profession. But I am a journalist, a profession that I hold dear to my heart, and I cannot agree to give it up because of unproven accusations,” read the statement.

Saying she hopes to return someday, Dougnac wrote: “I will cherish the memories I have of the warmth of the people and the beauty of this immense region. Delhi was my beloved city, where I lived my life. To bid farewell to it now is a tremendous sorrow.”

After she issued her statement, Reporters Without Borders said it “denounces the procedures of the Indian authorities which forced her to leave, measures symptomatic of ever-increasing repression against information professionals.”

‘India is my home’

Dougnac had previously issued a statement on January 23 after receiving the notice from the Foreigners Registration Office.

At the time, she denied the government’s allegation of “malicious reportage”. She said: “India is my home, a country which I deeply love and respect, and I have never engaged in any acts that are in any manner prejudicial to Indian interests as is being alleged.” 

Soon after, a group of 30 foreign journalists based in India expressed their “deep concern” over the notice. They issued a statement that said: “While foreign correspondents have grappled with increased visa restrictions in recent years, our colleagues with OCI status have faced particular difficulty from new and often opaque administrative burdens, hampering their ability to work as journalists.”

Other press groups also rose to Dougnac’s defence. The Press Club of India said the notice was an attempt to “curb journalistic freedom”. Reporters Without Borders said it was a “disturbing signal” for the future of journalism. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club was more sanguine, saying Dougnac would present the “facts before the concerned authorities to their satisfaction, emerge victorious and continue to live in India, which she loves”.

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