The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s South Asia bureau chief Avani Dias left India weeks after being told that her visa would not be extended due to her reporting on a Sikh separatist’s killing.

After lobbying by Australian authorities, Dias’ visa was eventually extended for two months, a day before she left India. Nevertheless, she left the country on April 19 after she was told that her “election accreditation would not come through because of an Indian Ministry directive”.

Dias said in a social media post on Tuesday: “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’.”

This comes weeks after YouTube blocked access in India to an episode of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s news series Foreign Correspondent and a news package on the killing of Canadian Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

Nijjar’s killing had led to diplomatic strife between New Delhi and Ottawa. In September last year, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told his country’s parliament that intelligence agencies were actively pursuing “credible allegations” tying agents of the Indian government to the Sikh separatist’s death. India had described this claim as “absurd and motivated”.

In an episode of her podcast titled Looking for Modi published on Monday, Dias said that she had been living and working in India for the last two-and-a-half years.

In March, while waiting for the annual renewal of her visa, she received a call from an official of the Ministry of External Affairs.

Dias said the official told her that her “routine visa extension application was not going to come through” and that she would have to leave the country before her visa expired.

“He specifically said it was because of my Sikh separatist story...saying it had gone too far...and he even referenced this podcast,” said the journalist.

According to a report by the broadcasting corporation’s news website, the official also told Dias that she had violated her visa by making a documentary. This came “despite her and other ABC journalists having filed 30-minute pieces for the programme for years without issue”, said the report.

On April 16, the Press Information Bureau told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that there was “no chance” Dias would get the accreditation to cover the Lok Sabha elections because of an order by the Ministry of External Affairs, people familiar with the matter told Scroll.

Upon the intervention of the Australian government, the journalist received a two-month visa extension. However, this came less than 24 hours before she was due to leave.

“It felt too difficult to do my job in India,” said Dias in her podcast. “I was struggling to get into public events run by Modi’s party [the Bharatiya Janata Party], the government would not even give me the passes I need to cover the election. And the ministry left it all so late, that we were already packed up and ready to go.”

Dias added: “It’s all by design...the Narendra Modi government has made me feel so uncomfortable that we decided to leave.”

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation managing director David Anderson has said the broadcaster stood by Dias’ reporting.

“The ABC fully backs and stands by the important and impactful reporting by Avani Dias during her time as ABC correspondent in India,” he said.

On March 24, YouTube sent an email to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation stating that it had received an order from India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to block the content around Nijjar’s killing.

The platform said that the specific order was “confidential” and that it came under India’s Information Technology Act, 2000, the news website said.

Following this, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation alleged that its crew had faced pressure from Indian authorities while working on the episode. “They were questioned by Indian criminal intelligence officials about the nature of the reporting and were blocked from filming a public event in Punjab,” said the broadcaster.

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