Foreign Journalists asked to “leave” Assam, post NRC, state declared “protected area”

Assam has suddenly been placed under the “protected area category” by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) following several questions being raised over the politicisation of the entire process of publication of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) reports the Assam Tribune.

Media Ban

As a consequence, all foreign journalists working in Assam have been asked to leave the state. For example, the Assam Tribune reports, that a female reporter of the wire agency, Associated Press (AP) was recently escorted by the Assam Police to the airport and put in the next available flight to Delhi, sources in the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia told this newspaper. “She was politely told by Assam government officials to leave the State and first procure the necessary permission from the Government of India,” sources added. Last weekend too correspondents of other foreign newspapers were not allowed entry.

Until this “order”, foreign media were barred from entering only Jammu and Kashmir and a few hills states of the Northeast on reporting assignments. But now, Assam has been added in the protected area list along with other north-eastern states, Indian Home Ministry sources said.

When contacted sources in the Ministry of External Affairs said that foreign journalists will now have to seek permission from the MEA and subject to final clearance by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the go ahead will be given. This recent development comes in the wake of the final publication of the NRC in Assam (August 31) and widespread news reports in foreign media, several of which were critical of the NRC exercise.

MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar on Sunday clarifed that the NRC was not an executive-driven process, but rather an exercise mandated and monitored by the Supreme Court. “There have been some commentaries in a section of foreign media about aspects of final NRC which are incorrect,” he added.

It is not insignificant that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) chief Filippo Grandi has also voiced concern at the publication of the NRC in Assam that could leave some 1.9 million people in danger of becoming stateless. “I appeal to India to ensure that no one is rendered stateless by this action, including by ensuring adequate access to information, legal aid, and legal recourse in accordance with the highest standards of due process,” he said in a statement in Geneva. Although the nationality status of the approximately 1.9 million people left off the NRC is not known, many are at risk of statelessness if they do not have another nationality, the UNHCR warned.

“Any process that could leave large numbers of people without a nationality would be an enormous blow to global efforts to eradicate statelessness,” Grandi warned in his reaction late last Sunday.The UNHCR also urged the government to take action over any similar processes that could occur in other Indian states and urged authorities not to deport anyone whose nationality had not been verified.

The UN agency also repeated its offer to help the Indian government determine people’s nationality and prevent statelessness “in accordance with its mandate and international standards”.

In July 2019, the Economist, a prestigious UK based weekly journal, was among the first to comment on the consequences of the on-going NRC exercise. In a leader titles, Madness in the hills–India is declaring millions of its citizens to be foreigners (The unlucky victims must then prove the opposite in special courts) the journal commented:
“Since 2016 this hilly tea-growing state in India’s north-eastern corner has been compiling a National Register of Citizens (NRC). Billed as a scientific method for sorting pukka Indians from a suspected mass of unwanted Bangladeshi intruders, the seemingly banal administrative procedure has instead encoiled millions of people in a cruelly absurdist game.

“Rather than find and prosecute illegal immigrants, Assam has instead tasked its 33m people, many of them poor and illiterate, with proving to bureaucrats that they deserve citizenship. Those who fail risk being locked up. Some 1,000 people currently moulder in Assam’s six existing detention centres for “foreigners”. The Indian public has lately been shocked by stories of people, such as a decorated war hero and a 59-year-old widow, who have found themselves jailed for failing to prove their Indian-ness. But the state of Assam is clearly expecting a lot more to come. Ten purpose-built camps are planned.”

The Guardian, also carried a significant report, ‘A nightmarish mess’: millions in Assam brace for loss of citizenship:
Campaigners describe a system of callous bureaucracy and political interference that has torn families apart and left the most vulnerable facing spells in detention centres and unaffordable legal fees.
The United Nations special rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, said the exercise “raises quite a few red flags” and “may be considered to be a discriminatory process and approach”. De Varennes said the number of people potentially affected could make this the biggest exercise in statelessness since the second world war.”
Clearly stung by this criticism, the government has decided to act! By curtailing access of the foreign media to Assam!

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1. “Rising tide of bigotry, stigmatization and scapegoating” in NRC process: UN demands GOI response



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