New Delhi: France raised the issue of the likely expulsion of a French journalist by India during talks as part of the ongoing visit of French President Emmanuel Macron, with New Delhi insisting that it is about violation of rules and not the nature of her journalism.
Meanwhile, a group of 30 foreign correspondents based in India have expressed concern and hope that India resolves the case so that it doesn’t impact her profession or her family life.
Citing a “violation” of visa rules in connection with her reporting, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had issued a two-week notice to a French journalist Vanessa Dougnac for revocation of her Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card. She had been asked to respond by February 2. If the notice was implemented, it would mean that Dougnac would have to leave the country.
Dougnac, who is married to an Indian and has been living here for 22 years, is a correspondent for the Le Croix and Le Point media outlets.
In a statement, Dougnac had denied all the allegations and said that she was cooperating with the legal process.
The French President is on the last leg of a two-day visit to India to be the chief guest of the Republic Day celebrations.
At a press conference on Friday afternoon, Indian foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra confirmed that Dougnac’s case had been raised by France earlier, as well as, during delegation-level talks with Macron. “This has been brought to our attention by the French side, both prior to the visit and during the visit,” he said.
Kwatra said that France did “appreciate” India’s “frame of reference” to look at the case purely through a lens of compliance with rules.
“We have shared with them, and they appreciate the understanding that the frame of reference that we are looking at it is the compliance of rules…,” he stated.
The Indian foreign secretary claimed that the notice had not got anything to with her reporting. “People are free to do what they are accredited to do in a given space. But here I think the principal issue is whether the person is compliant with the rules and regulations of the state under which they come.”
As per reports, the MHA notice cites multiple reasons for the cancellation of her OCI card, ranging from “malicious” reporting that created a “negative perception” of India, inciting disorder, not taking permission for travelling to restricted areas and reporting on neighbouring countries.
An open letter signed by around 30 India-based foreign correspondents expressed “deep concern” at the MHA notice to Vanessa Dougnac.
The letter described Dougnac as a “highly regarded” senior journalist covering South Asia. “Ever since the notice was brought to public attention by news reports, with the suggestion that she is facing this sanction because of her past reporting, she has firmly denied accusations of any breach of Indian law.”
It noted that journalists with OCI cards face particular challenges in India. “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,” said the letter.
Under the regulations introduced in 2021, individuals holding OCI cards are required to seek a permit to engage in journalism, research, or missionary activities in India. If their application is approved, they are granted permission for a one-year period, with the requirement for annual renewal. Dougnac had submitted an application, but her request was rejected.
The foreign correspondents hoped that her case “is resolved quickly as it affects not only her livelihood but also her family life, and we request the Indian authorities to facilitate the vital work of a free press in line with India’s democratic traditions”.
The signatories of the letter include journalists from the Le Monde, The New York Times, The Washington Post, France 24, The Economist, The Guardian and France Télévisions.