FILE - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he speaks after releasing India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s election manifesto for the April/May general election, in New Delhi, Apr. 8, 2019.
FILE - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he speaks in New Delhi, April 8, 2019. Press freedom watchdogs accused the Indian government of retaliating against a British writer for criticizing Modi in Time Magazine.

NEW DELHI - Press freedom watchdogs rebuked the Indian government Friday for revoking the overseas citizenship of British writer Aatish Taseer, calling it retribution for criticism of Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In May, weeks before Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) overwhelmingly won election to return to power, Taseer wrote a scathing piece in Time Magazine that appeared on its cover with a headline: "India's Divider in Chief."

A spokeswoman for India's Home Ministry said late Thursday that Taseer was ineligible for Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) status — which allows foreigners of Indian ancestry to visit, work and live in the country indefinitely — because he concealed that his late father was Pakistani.

India does not grant OCIs to individuals who are or whose ancestors were citizens of archenemy Pakistan or Bangladesh. It also does not allow dual citizenship.

'Chilling message'

Taseer — born to Indian columnist Tavleen Singh and Salman Taseer, a Pakistani politician assassinated in 2011 — said the government had "weaponized" a technicality to punish him. 

"I feel that anybody in my position has been sent a chilling message," he told Reuters on Friday, saying he now fears he may be unable to visit his mother and grandmother in India. "What they have done is make an example of me. They are really showing that they are willing to go after writers and journalists," added Taseer, 38, from the United States where he lives.

Taseer said his mother had always been his sole legal guardian and he did not have contact with his father until the age of 21. He added that he was unsure what nationality he had listed for his father, who was also British, on his application but stressed he had never sought to hide his Pakistani links and wrote about his father extensively in a book a decade ago.

"I've not been given an opportunity to explain this," he said.

Intimidation of journalists?

The Home Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Daniel Bastard, head of the Asia-Pacific Desk at Reporters Without Borders, said it was revenge for criticizing Modi, whom Taseer wrote had helped create "an atmosphere of poisonous religious nationalism" in India and failed to reform its economy.

"The revocation of Aatish Taseer's Indian overseas citizenship is just another example of how the Indian government tends to intimidate every journalist who does not toe the line of the BJP's narrative," he told Reuters.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also urged the Indian government to withdraw any directive to strip Taseer's overseas citizenship.