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Indian-American Journalist and Writer Faces Revocation of Citizenship Document - Statement by PEN Amercia

8 November

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PEN America

Indian-American Journalist and Writer Faces Revocation of Citizenship Document

PEN America concerned India’s government is retaliating against journalist Aatish Taseer’s reporting critical of the country’s PM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 7, 2019

**UPDATE: A few hours after the home ministry’s tweets, Taseer received an email from the Consulate General of India in New York informing him that the Government of India had cancelled his OCI card, effective immediately.**

(New York, NY) – 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. In a statement, PEN America said it was a worrying move by the government to punish a reporter for coverage critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In May, amid a contentious Indian election season, Taseer penned a cover story profiling Modi for TIME headlined “India’s Divider in Chief.” That drew online harassment and an official complaint from India’s consul general to TIME magazine. In September, he received notice that the Indian government intended to revoke his Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) documentation. That status allows foreign citizens of Indian heritage to live and work in India indefinitely – Taseer was born to an Indian mother and grew up in the country.

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 cancelled, they can also be placed on a blacklist preventing their future entry into India. Taseer responded to the notice but never received an official reply from the 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. We call on the Indian government to cease their judicial harassment of Taseer immediately and allow him to keep his OCI card.”

Threats to free expression and political dissent in India have been building steadily in recent years. As noted in PEN International’s 2016 report Fearful Silence: The Chill on India’s Public Sphere, the environment for free expression has deteriorated under the present government, with authorities regularly using legal cases and other regulatory mechanisms to curb dissenting views. Those who advocate for human rights or express unorthodox viewpoints are sometimes subject to arrest, prosecution, and other forms of legal intimidation, and recent cases of murders of leading journalists, thinkers, and writers, such as Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar, MM Kalburgi, and Gauri Lankesh, have yet to be fully investigated or prosecuted.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, sfee[at]pen.org, +1 202 309 8892