Indian government expels two foreign journalists for visa violations

January 9, 2019 9:35 AM ET

The Kashmir Press Club office is seen in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir state. In December 2018, foreign journalist was denied entry into India after reporting from Kashmir without government permission. (CPJ/Aliya Iftikhar)

Two foreign journalists were barred from entering India for allegedly violating visa rules in late December 2018 and early January 2019, according to press reports. On December 28, 2018, Press Trust of India (PTI) reported that Cathal McNaughton, the chief photographer with Reuters' Delhi office, had been denied reentry into the country for allegedly traveling to the Indian-controlled state of Jammu and Kashmir without appropriate government permission. On January 2, 2019, The Hindu reported that U.S.-based freelance journalist Mark Scialla was deported while he was reporting on an environmental issue in the state of Tamil Nadu on a tourist visa.

Ministry of Home Affairs officials told The Indian Express that McNaughton, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and an Irish national, "violated visa conditions by traveling to restricted and protected areas in Jammu and Kashmir without permission." He was denied entry into the country from the New Delhi airport after a trip abroad despite carrying a valid visa, according to NDTV.

In April 2018, McNaughton went on a reporting trip to Kashmir and posted photos from the region on his Instagram. According to two of his colleagues who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on the matter, there was no warning from the government about the trip until he tried to return to the country in December.

"He may be a winner of some awards, but that does not give him the license to violate Indian laws. The Ministry of External Affairs regularly informs foreign journalists about Indian rules and regulations. And in certain places, a foreigner is required to take permission. If you violate these rules and regulations, we are bound to take action," a Ministry of Home Affairs official told Press Trust of India.

In May 2018, the government reminded foreign journalists that they require permission to travel to areas protected under the Foreigners (Protected Areas) Order, 1958, which includes Jammu and Kashmir and parts of the northeast, Press Trust of India reported.

Scialla, an American, was working on a documentary concerning the health impact of a copper smelting plant owned by Sterlite Copper, a subsidiary of international mining company Vedanta Limited, in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu state, according to NDTV.

"During inquiry, he admitted that he came on a tourist visa and wanted to do an article and a film on the anti-Sterlite protests, which is a violation of visa norms," Superintendent of Police Murali Rambha told The Times of India. Scialla was issued a legal notice and given 48 hours to leave the country. He left Hyderabad for the United States on January 2, according to Scroll.

Three foreign correspondents in India, who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity citing fears that their own visas may be put into jeopardy, said the Indian government has become increasingly sensitive about coverage of certain topics, including Kashmir, ruling political leaders, and environmental issues. According to those correspondents, government officials criticized such coverage in discussions during their visa renewals, although visas in those cases were renewed.

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