Forced to leave India, alleges Australian journalist. Not true, govt rebuts her | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Forced to leave India, alleges Australian journalist. Not true, govt rebuts her

Apr 23, 2024 07:29 PM IST

ABC said YouTube blocked access in India to an episode of its news series Foreign Correspondent on Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s killing on New Delhi’s orders.

NEW DELHI: Australian journalist Avani Dias claimed on Tuesday that she had to leave India “abruptly” as the government told her an extension of her visa would be denied as her reporting has “crossed a line”.

Avani Dias said in a post on X that she was told that her visa extension request would be denied allegedly because her reporting on the Nijjar killing crossed a line (Instagram/avanidias)
Avani Dias said in a post on X that she was told that her visa extension request would be denied allegedly because her reporting on the Nijjar killing crossed a line (Instagram/avanidias)

Dias, who worked in India as the South Asia bureau chief for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) since January 2022, left the country last week.

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However, an Indian government official who declined to be named described Dias’s contention that she wasn’t allowed to cover India’s general election and was compelled to leave the country as “not correct”. The official added, “She left because she had to meet the timeline for another job offer in Australia. The reason for her leaving was not delay in issuance of visa but personal reasons.”

In a post on X, Dias said, “After Australian Government intervention, I got a mere two-month extension...less than 24 hours before my flight.” She added, “We were also told my election accreditation would not come through because of an Indian Ministry directive. We left on day one of voting in the national election in what Modi calls ‘the mother of democracy’.”

The development took place against the backdrop of the removal of Dias’s documentary on the killing last year of pro-Khalistan activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada from YouTube India. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau triggered a diplomatic row by saying there were “credible allegations of a potential link” between Indian government agents and the killing of Nijjar.

On March 24, YouTube sent an email to the Australian broadcaster that said it had received an order from India’s electronics and information technology ministry to block Dias’s documentary. Following this, ABC alleged their journalists were questioned in Punjab by the Criminal Intelligence Department and blocked from filming a public event at the India-Pakistan border despite having approvals.

The Indian government official said ABC’s documentary, titled “Sikhs, Murder and Spies” and aired on March 21, was shot without appropriate permissions. The BSF too had declined permission for the ABC team to shoot close to the Wagah land border because of security-related restrictions, the official said.

The official further alleged that the visas of Dias’s associates were “obtained on the basis of misleading or incomplete information”.

Besides, the documentary glorified terrorism, including incidents such as the 1984 assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi, and the bombing of Air India flight 182 by Khalistani activists in 1985. The documentary also provided a platform to “extremists and a fringe group of separatists” such as Nijjar, Dal Khasla and Sikhs For Justice Australia, the official said.

The documentary lacked objectivity, “had a pro-Khalistan stance”, and failed to mention the opposition to Khalistan in the state of Punjab, the official said.

Giving details on the processing of Dias’s visa application, the official said at a meeting in early April, an assurance was given that her visa would be renewed. An extension letter was issued in early April for her to make a fresh application, and Dias’s current visa was valid till April 20, the official said.

Dias paid the visa renewal fees only on April 18, one day before her sudden departure, the official said. “Her visa was renewed till the end of June so that she could cover the election and undertake other journalistic activities,” the official added.

Authority letters for access to polling booths and counting stations can’t be processed while the visa extension was being processed and two other ABC correspondents had received their letters, the official said.

ABC managing director David Anderson said: “The ABC fully backs and stands

by the important and impactful reporting by Avani Dias during her time as ABC correspondent in India. Avani joins the ‘Four Corners’ team as a reporter in coming weeks.”

Dias also spoke about the issue in her podcast “Looking for Modi”. She said, “It felt really shocking. This place my partner and I had called home for the last two-and-a-half years, this place that we loved so much, was not going to be home anymore. We were being forced to leave on the Indian government’s terms.”

She contended an official of the external affairs ministry had told her that her visa wouldn’t be extended. “He specifically said it was because of my Sikh separatist story, stating it had gone too far,” Dias said in her podcast.

(With inputs from Rezaul H Laskar)

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