Free speech organisation PEN America and the Committee to Protect Journalists on Thursday criticised the Indian government for its decision to cancel writer and journalist Aatish Taseer’s Overseas Citizen of India status.

PEN America claimed the decision was a punishment for an article Taseer had written criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The organisation called India’s decision a “worrying move”, and asked the government to stop the “judicial harassment of Taseer immediately”.

In May, Taseer had written a cover story in Time magazine describing Modi as India’s “divider in chief”. The Ministry of Home Affairs has claimed that speculations that the revocation of Taseer’s OCI status was linked to the article were “complete misrepresentation and devoid of facts”.

On Thursday night, Taseer was informed that his OCI status had been revoked and that he should turn his OCI card in to the Consulate General of India in New York, where he lives, in 15 days. The Ministry of Home Affairs said Taseer had become “ineligible” to hold the OCI card because he had “concealed the fact that his late father was of Pakistani origin” in his application for this status.

Overseas Citizenship of India is an immigration status that allows foreigners of Indian origin to live and work in India indefinitely. This status is not available to applicants whose parents, grandparents or great-grandparents were Pakistani. Before the OCI scheme was launched in 2005, members of the diaspora could obtain Person of Indian Origin status. Under the rules, Taseer could be banned from entering India after this.

“Once granted, the OCI card can only be cancelled under limited circumstances whose narrow criteria have not been met in this case,” said PEN America. “If an individual’s card is cancelled, they can also be placed on a blacklist preventing their future entry into India.”

“Harassing critical writers and journalists not just in India but globally is a disturbing new low for Modi’s government that’s already put Indian democracy on its heels,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “Revoking Aatish Taseer’s citizenship document – which would in effect also ban him from visiting his childhood home and seeing his mother and grandmother – is a cruelly personal and vindictive way to punish a journalist for their critical coverage.”

PEN America said free expression and political dissent were under threat in India. It added that authorities often resort to legal cases and other regulatory mechanisms to curb dissenting views. “Those who advocate for human rights or express unorthodox viewpoints are sometimes subject to arrest, prosecution, and other forms of legal intimidation, and recent cases of murders of leading journalists, thinkers, and writers, such as Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar, MM Kalburgi, and Gauri Lankesh, have yet to be fully investigated or prosecuted,” said the organisation.

Also read: ‘Time’ magazine cover story says PM Narendra Modi is India’s ‘divider-in-chief’

The decision shows BJP is intolerant of criticism, says CPJ

The Committee to Protect Journalists said the Indian government’s decision showed that the Bharatiya Janata Party was intolerant of criticism. It added that the move could also hamper India’s international reputation. “Home Minister Amit Shah should immediately withdraw the directive and any attempts to alter Aatish Taseer’s overseas citizenship,” said Steven Butler, coordinator of CPJ’s Asia programme in Washington, DC.