British Indian Aatish Taseer believes the move is intended as a warning to other writers
An Indian-origin British journalist critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been stripped off his Indian overseas citizenship - a move The Committee to Protect Journalists consider as Modi government's intolerance of criticism and freedom of the press.
Aatish Taseer, born in the UK but raised in India, spent a further decade living there from the age of 25, wrote an article criticising the regime of the country's prime minister Narendra Modi.
On November 7, he was stripped off his overseas citizenship status.
The home ministry said that Aatish had "concealed the fact that his late father was of Pakistani origin" and was therefore ineligible for Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI), claiming Taseer had not asserted his right to appeal - which he said was untrue.
In an interview with The Guardian, Aatish denied the allegation, saying his connection to Pakistan had never been hidden and had simply made him an "easy target". He was not given official written notice that he had been stripped of his OCI status and instead found out via a public tweet from the ministry on Thursday.
Aatish's father, Salman Taseer, is a Pakistani born in the pre-partition British India who later held the position of governor of Pakistan's Punjab province until his assassination in 2011 for opposing the country's blasphemy laws.
Growing up, Aatish had no connection to his father at all and his mother, a prominent journalist, was his sole legal guardian. Nonetheless, Aatish's father had been clearly named on all his official documentation registering his status as an Indian citizen, first in 2000 when he received his person of Indian origin status, and again in 2016 when it was transferred to OCI status "without any issue".
The decision to strip Aatish off his OIC status followed by the publication of his cover article on Time magazine's international edition titled "India's Divider in Chief" - next to Modi's face - in May ahead of elections that saw Modi win a second term in a landslide.
"I never had any problems with my citizenship until after the Time piece was written," said Atish.
"There have been a number of times where my father's Pakistani nationality has been as clear as day. I wrote a book on discovering him aged 21. He was assassinated in 2011 and it was a major story across the world. Everyone knew he was my father, that there was this connection, and not once did anyone in the government raise a question about my OCI status. But within 90 days of that Time story, suddenly it gets raised."
Having written multiple books on India, Aatish described the government's move as highly suspicious and systematic, saying, "They are making an example of me and sending a warning message to other journalists."
"Within India, the Modi government has completely altered the media climate, everyone critical has been muffled or silenced," said Taseer.
"And now my case shows that even those who think they are protected because they write abroad or for a foreign publisher, they are not going to be safe either."
Pen America, which defends freedom of expression, said: "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."
The decision to remove his OCI means he is blacklisted from India and may never be able to return. This decision followed an alleged smear campaign against Aatish in India led by Sambit Patra, the spokesperson for Modi's Bharatiya Janata party, which was then picked up by Modi himself after the publication of the Time magazine article.
CNA sources reported that under Modi, who has been in power since 2014, India has fallen to 140th out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
At least six Indian journalists were killed in connection with their work in 2018, according to RSF, while noting a rise in attacks ahead of this year's election.
Taseer said he was fearful he was only the first to be targeted by the regime, and that OCI status would now be used as a sword of Damocles to target Indian journalists writing internationally.
"There are a lot of journalists who, like me, rely on this as a foundational document to connect them to their country, to own land, to visit family, to live in India as long as you like," he said.
"Now, anyone in a similar situation to me knows they are on notice."