Reuters’ Pulitzer-winning journalist denied re-entry to India; MHA says he violated laws

Cathal McNaughton, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, who works as chief photographer with news agency Reuters at its Delhi office, has been denied entry back into India for allegedly violating visa norms.

Cathal McNaughton, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, who works as chief photographer with news agency Reuters at its Delhi office, has been denied entry back into India for allegedly violating visa norms.

McNaughton and his colleagues were awarded the Pulitzer Prize in May 2018 for their photographs that “exposed the world to the violence Rohingya refugees faced in fleeing Myanmar”.

Reports stated that McNaughton allegedly travelled to restricted and protected areas in Jammu and Kashmir without permission. He also reported from the state without valid permission.   

The action against him, however, is temporary and can be reviewed after six months or a year, a home ministry official told NDTV.

McNaughton confirmed that he had been barred from entering India through an Instagram post. “2018 has been interesting. From winning the Pulitzer to being denied entry back into India,” he said in the post.

What has the MHA said?

Officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said that McNaughton “violated visa conditions by travelling to restricted and protected areas in Jammu and Kashmir without permission”.

Sources however told the Indian Express that when McNaughton was sent back from Delhi airport, he had a “valid visa” to enter India.

MHA officials have alleged that McNaughton had visited restricted areas in Jammu and Kashmir and had also reported from the region without valid permission. “He was not charged with violation of visa rules but was denied entry,” a government official said.

“Everybody has to follow law. For violation, the consequence is the same for everybody. Foreigners should respect Indian law. If any Indian visits abroad and violates the law of that country, he or she is also liable to be punished,” an official told PTI.

“He may be a winner of some awards, but that does not give him the licence to violate Indian laws. The Ministry of External Affairs [MEA] regularly informs foreign journalists about Indian rules and regulations. And in certain places, a foreigner is required to take permission. If you violate these rules and regulations, we are bound to take action,” the official said further.

What do the rules say?

According to visa rules for foreign journalists, “A foreign journalist, TV cameraperson, etc., including a foreign journalist already based in India, who desires to visit a restricted or protected area or Jammu & Kashmir or the North Eastern States, should apply for a special permit through the Ministry of External Affairs (External Publicity Division).”

An MHA official said that foreign correspondents will also require prior approval from the Home Ministry to film in restricted and protected areas such as border districts, defence installations, and other places of strategic importance, national parks, and wildlife sanctuaries.

Under normal circumstances, India grants foreign journalists visa for up to three months, but in rare cases, a six-month journalist visa, with a single or double entry, can be issued, sources said.

McNaughton’s work

McNaughton was part of the seven-member Reuters team that won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for their series documenting the violence faced by the Rohingya community and their mass exodus to Bangladesh since August 2017.

According to his timeline on Instagram, McNaughton was in Jammu and Kashmir in April 2018 to cover the protests that ensued after an 8-year-old girl belonging to a Muslim nomadic tribe was raped and murdered in Kathua.

British journalist denied entry in Hong Kong

In a separate incident, in November, British journalist Victor Mallet was denied entry into Hong Kong, after being questioned by officials for nearly four hours.

“It’s correct that I have been denied entry even for a visit,” Mallet said via text message. “No explanation given,” as per a report in South China Morning Post. In October, Mallet’s request for a renewal of his work visa was denied.

Earlier, in August, Mallet moderated a Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) event in Hong Kong, featuring a talk by pro-independence activist Andy Chan Ho-tin, then convenor of the National Party. Officials banned the party in September citing national security reasons.

Campaigners slammed Mallet being denied entry as another blow to press freedom in the city, which has come under increasing pressure from an assertive China.

The refusal by immigration officials to let in Mallet came hours after an arts centre hosting the city’s high-profile literary festival cancelled appearances by exiled Chinese writer Ma Jian.


Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius

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