On December 24, 2019, Jakob Lindenthal, a German exchange student at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-M), left India on the order of local immigration officials following his participation in student-organized protests against a controversial citizenship law. Indian authorities ultimately revoked his student visa.
Starting in December 2019, students, faculty, and civil society groups have held nationwide protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a controversial law enacted on December 12, 2019, which expedites citizenship for several religious minorities but does not include Muslims. Critics of the CAA argue that it is discriminatory and violates the secular nature of India’s constitution. Many of the student-led protests have been met with intense police force and arrests.
Lindenthal, a graduate student of physics from the Technical University Dresden who had been participating in an exchange program at IIT-M since July 2019, participated in several anti-CAA protests on and off IIT Madras’ campus in Chennai. Photos of Lindenthal at the protests published by several Indian media outlets showed him holding protest signs, one of which appeared to compare ongoing events in India to Germany in the 1930s.
On December 23, following his participation in the protests, Lindenthal says that he was instructed by university personnel to meet with officials from the local Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO). Lindenthal reported to the FRRO in Chennai, where he was allegedly asked about his political views, including his views regarding the CAA, and his connections to various student organizations at IIT-Madras. During the meeting, an FRRO official commented that his participation in the protests violated the terms of his visa and asked him to leave the country immediately.
Although Lindenthal contacted the German Embassy and inquired about legal assistance, he ultimately left India on December 24 and returned to Germany. On February 8, 2020, India’s embassy in Berlin reportedly notified Lindenthal that his student visa had been revoked.
In addition to Lindenthal, two more international students have been ordered to leave the country in connection with the anti-CAA protests. They include Afsara Anika Meem, a Bangladeshi student of design at Visva-Bharati University (see report), and Kamil Siedcynski, a Polish student of comparative literature at Jadavpur University (see report).
Scholars at Risk is concerned by the effective deportation of a student and the revocation of a student visa in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from restricting or retaliating against such conduct. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, travel restrictions intended to punish expressive activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.