On February 14, 2020, Indian authorities issued a “leave notice” to Afsara Anika Meem, a Bangladeshi student of design at Visva Bharati University (VBU), ordering her to leave the country within fifteen days, in apparent retaliation for alleged social media content related to a nationwide protest movement.
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.
While it is unclear whether Meem participated in the protests, sources indicate she had posted images of the protest movement to her personal Facebook account. The posts were reportedly circulated widely and attracted condemnation from right-wing users, including calls for her to leave the country. Meem reported that she deactivated her Facebook account shortly thereafter.
By February 14, India’s Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO) issued Meem a leave order claiming she engaged in “anti-government activities,” which, the order states, violate her student visa. The leave order reportedly came after the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a national right-wing student group, submitted a complaint to JU’s vice-chancellor, accusing Meem of “intervening in India’s internal matter [sic].”
According to the Express News Service, Meem has met with the FRRO to discuss the matter; however, it is unclear whether she has filed an appeal.
As of March 2020, at least two other international students in India have been issued deportation orders in connection with anti-CAA protests. They include Kamil Siedcynski, a Polish graduate student of comparative literature at Jadavpur University (see report), and Jakob Lindenthal, a German exchange student at the Indian Institute of Technology (see report).
Scholars at Risk is concerned by a deportation order issued to a student in retaliation for the alleged nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression — 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.