(New York, NY) – More than 260 writers, journalists, artists, and activists have signed a PEN America letter urging the Indian government review its decision to rescind a key citizenship document for journalist Aatish Taseer. The letter says the Indian government is likely retaliating against Taseer for his critical coverage of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and calls on the prime minister to ensure no writer is punished for speaking out.

“Denying access to the country to writers of both foreign and Indian origin casts a chill on public discourse; it flies in the face of India’s traditions of free and open debate and respect for a diversity of views, and weakens its credentials as a strong and thriving democracy,” reads the letter, signed by Chimamanda Adichie, Christiane Amanpour, Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon, Don DeLillo, John Coetzee, Anita Desai, Louise Erdrich, Mia Farrow, Amitav Ghosh, Philip Gourevitch, Jhumpa Lahiri, Suketu Mehta, Maaza Mengiste, Perumal Murugan, Edna O’Brien, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie, Gloria Steinem, Manil Suri, and dozens of others.

Earlier this month, Indian officials revoked Taseer’s Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) documentation. That status allows foreign citizens of Indian heritage to live and work in India indefinitely. The Indian government alleges Taseer concealed information about his father, a Pakistani national. The PEN America letter says that Taseer has never concealed information about his heritage and that it has been the subject of his widely available books and articles throughout his career. Taseer was raised by his Indian mother and her family and grew up in the country.

“It’s intolerable for the Indian government to hide behind the fig leaf of bureaucracy,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of PEN America’s Free Expression at Risk Programs. “Aatish has held his OCI status for many years and has always publicly disclosed his family’s background, which was never before an issue. This is outright retaliation against a journalist who has ticked off an increasingly nationalistic and authoritarian prime minister. Let’s not pretend this is something else.”

Under Indian law, the OCI card can only be cancelled under limited circumstances whose narrow criteria have not been met in this case. If an individual’s card is canceled, they can also be placed on a blacklist preventing their future entry into India. Taseer responded to an original notice earlier this year but never received an official reply from the Home Ministry. However, on November 7, the Ministry announced in a series of tweets that Taseer had hidden information about his late father’s nationality and later announced the revocation of his status on Twitter.

“We are extremely concerned that Taseer appears to have been targeted for an extremely personal form of retaliation due to his writing and reporting that has been critical of the Indian government. We urge that the spirit of the OCI regulations, which are designed to provide status and connection to their roots and family to citizens of other countries with Indian heritage, are upheld, and do not discriminate against single mothers,” reads the letter.

Threats to free expression and political dissent in India have been building steadily in recent years. As noted in PEN International’s 2016 report Fearful Silence: The Chill on India’s Public Sphere, the environment for free expression has deteriorated under the present government, with authorities regularly using legal cases and other regulatory mechanisms to curb dissenting views.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

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