Australian broadcaster’s India chief of bureau leaves India ‘abruptly’ as visa is denied

Avani Dias was apparently told her reporting ‘crossed a line’. Sources say her remarks are ‘misleading and mischievous’.

April 23, 2024 10:36 pm | Updated 10:36 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Avani Dias. File photo: X/@AvaniDias

Avani Dias. File photo: X/@AvaniDias

The Chief of Bureau of Australia’s state-run news outlet in New Delhi has stated that she had to leave India ‘abruptly’ after government officials denied her a visa-extension. The public announcement by Avani Dias, the journalist came after she and her team from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) were questioned by an officer from the Criminal Intelligence Department when they were producing a programme on the Indian government’s alleged targeted assasination of pro-Khalistan separatists in western countries. Sources here have described her version as “misleading”.

“Last week, I had to leave India abruptly. The Modi Government told me my visa extension would be denied, saying my reporting “crossed a line”. After Australian Government intervention, I got a mere two-month extension…less than 24 hours before my flight. We were also told my election accreditation would not come through because of an Indian Ministry directive,” said Ms Dias in a post on ‘X’.

‘Mother of Democracy’

“We left on day one of voting in the national election in what Modi calls ‘the Mother of democracy’, ” said Ms. Dias in the same post.

The Australian journalist was a foreign national working in New Delhi as the Bureau Chief of ABC on a J1 (Journalist) class visa. Her visa was due to expire on 20 April and she had applied for an extension on 1 January. However, the process of renewal of her Indian visa coincided with ABC’s coverage of the situation in Punjab. The Hindu has learned from sources relevant to this development that Ms. Dias and her crew were “intimidated and pressured” by government officials, and they were even questioned by an officer from the Criminal Intelligence Department during this time over their reporting plans. Subsequently, YouTube blocked an ABC report on the June 2023 killing of pro-Khalistan figure Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada. YouTube had informed ABC that “it had received an order from India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting” to take down Sikhs, Spies and Murder: Investigating India’s alleged hit on foreign soil.

While researching their report on the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, the Australian crew had visited the family home of the late Mr Nijjar and met representatives of a Sikh separatist group in Punjab. Following this, it was conveyed to Ms Dias that the research had “crossed a line that no one has crossed”. Ms Dias has also been in the spotlight after her podcast “Looking for Modi” got widely circulated online. In the documentary, Ms Dias explored the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and reports of crackdown against dissenting voices in India. Before the Australian outlet, the BBC had faced troubles and a raid from tax officials after it aired a documentary titled India: The Modi Question that probed the Indian PM’s track record.

Flouted security rules

Government sources however said that Ms. Dias’ sudden departure came as a surprise, citing the fact that the journalist had herself paid the fees for visa extension a day prior to flying out, and the extension had been granted before Ms. Diaz left. In addition, sources said that Ms. Diaz had been found to have flouted the Border Security Force’s security norms while filming at the Wagah border and the ABC film crew had not followed the visa norms for documentary making while in India.

The issue of her visa extension had been under discussion between the journalist, MHA, MEA and the Australian High Commission. The sources said the government had conveyed in early April that a visa extension would be granted. They further described her version of events as “misleading and mischievous”. “Ms. Dias was found to have violated visa rules while undertaking her professional pursuits. In spite of this, on her request, she was assured that her visa would be extended for the coverage of the general elections,” an official source said. The Indian side also contested her version that she was not permitted to cover elections as “factually incorrect”.

“Coverage of election activities outside of booth is permitted to all Journalist Visa holders. Authority letters are required only for access to polling booths and counting stations. This, however, cannot be processed while the visa extension is under process,” said the source elaborating that two other journalists working with the same Australian outlet have “received their letters”.

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