French journalist leaves India after work permit refused

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A French journalist said Thursday he had left India after more than 13 years because he was denied a work permit, a decision he called an act of “incomprehensible censorship.”

Critics say that media freedom in the world’s most populous democracy is increasingly under attack, with journalists who touch on sensitive topics often subjected to government rebuke.

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Sebastien Farcis, who worked for Radio France Internationale and other major French-language media outlets, said he had left India earlier this week after having been informed in March that his routine journalist permit extension had been denied.

“This work ban comes as a big shock,” he said in a statement issued in Paris.

“It was communicated to me on the eve of the Indian general elections, the largest democratic elections in the world, which I was hence forbidden to cover. This appeared to me as an incomprehensible censorship.”

He said that no reason had been provided “despite formal and repeated requests,” and that he had applied for a new work permit.

But until that was granted, the refusal prevented him from “practicing my profession,” obliging him to leave India, he added.

Without “work nor income, my family has been pushed out of India without explanation,” he said.

Farcis is married to an Indian national and has Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) status, which allows him to live and work in the country but requires a special permit for missionary activities, mountaineering or journalism.

“This denial comes in a worrying context of increasing restrictions on the work of foreign journalists,” Farcis said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been accused of stifling independent media, with India slumping to 159 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index.

In February, French journalist Vanessa Dougnac left India, where she had worked for more than two decades, after authorities threatened to expel her for what they termed “malicious and critical” reporting.

In April, Australian ABC journalist Avani Dias said she was effectively pushed out after she was told her routine journalist visa extension would be denied.

Dias was issued a temporary visa less than a day before she was scheduled to leave, but departed anyway as she said it “felt too difficult to do my job in India.”

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