French Journalist Says She Has Been Forced to Leave India


A French journalist who called India home for more than two decades has been forced to return to France after Indian authorities accused her of writing “malicious and critical” reports, “inimical to the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India.”

Vanessa Dougnac denies the accusations and Indian authorities have not identified the reports in question.

Dougnac was a New Delhi-based correspondent for several media outlets in Europe, including the French mainstream daily La Croix, weekly magazine Le Point, Swiss daily Le Temps and Belgian daily Le Soir. Her journalism career in India spanned 23 years.

Dougnac left India on Friday, about a month after the Ministry of Home Affairs sent her a notice saying that she was “undertaking journalistic activities without any special permission as required under Citizenship Act 1955 and rules/regulations issued thereunder.”

The notice, sent to her on Jan. 18, said her “malicious” reporting created a “negative perception” of India and could “provoke disorder and disturb peace in certain sections of society.” In response to the notice, Dougnac issued a statement on Jan. 23 denying her reporting was “malicious.”

Authorities also alleged Dougnac traveled to restricted areas without permission.

Reports also say the ministry asked her to provide reasons as to why her Overseas Citizen of India, or OCI, card, which allowed her to live and work in India legally as a permanent resident, should not be revoked

Dougnac is married to an Indian man, allowing her to have an OCI card.

Dougnac issued a statement as she left India, saying, “I am writing these words in tears… [India is] the place where I married, raised my son, and which I call my home.”

This is not Dougnac’s first run-in with Indian authorities. A permit allowing her to work in India as a journalist was revoked in September 2022.

She says the government “denied my right to work as a journalist, providing no reasons nor justifications, and no hearing. Since then, the ministry has not once responded to my repeated requests for explanations or review of this arbitrary action.”

During her 23-year journalism career in India, Dougnac wrote reports from different parts of India and nearby countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

In recent years, she reported on several topics, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and India’s rising Hindu nationalist force, the rights of forest people in the country, the political situation of Indian-controlled Kashmir and a Maoist insurgency in central India.

Two years ago, she wrote a report for La Croix, titled, “In India, the fate of Muslims and Christians is deteriorating.”

Calling India home

“India is my home, a country which I deeply love and respect, and I have never engaged in any acts that are in any manner prejudicial to Indian interests as is being alleged,” Dougnac said.

“I worked as a journalist in India when I indeed had a valid work permit. I stopped reporting from India as soon as my journalism permit was revoked in September 2022,” Dougnac said.

Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said on Jan. 26 that the actions against Dougnac had nothing to do with her reporting on India.

“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,” Kwatra said in a statement.

VOA emailed the office of Indian Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla requesting comment on Dougnac’s case but has not received any response.

Journalists and media rights groups have stood in support of Dougnac.

Last week, around 30 India-based foreign correspondents jointly wrote a letter urging the Indian authorities to resolve Dougnac’s case quickly “as it affects not only her livelihood but also her family life.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has urged the Indian authorities to immediately reinstate Dougnac’s journalism permit and stop using legal technicalities to prevent journalists from carrying out their duties.

“It’s deeply disheartening to witness the harassment that Vanessa Dougnac … has endured at the hands of Indian authorities in the last 17 months,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, program director of the CPJ.

Reporters Without Borders’ editorial director, Anne Bocandé, last week issued a statement saying, “Forcing a seasoned professional journalist to leave India after she had been based there for two decades reveals a very dark and deplorable image of what press freedom has become under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”

She also said, “With two months to go to general elections, the vice is tightening on foreign correspondents who try to cover India in a professional manner.”

While Modi’s Hindu nationalist government is accused of stifling the press, India’s media freedom record has declined over the past decade, falling 21 places to 161 out of 180 on the World Press Freedom Index, where 1 shows the best environment for journalism.__VOA News