BBC offices in India raided by tax officials amid Modi documentary fallout | India

BBC offices in India have been raided by tax department officials, just weeks after the release of a documentary critical of the prime minister, Narendra Modi, which was later blocked by the government.

According to those working at the broadcaster, more than a dozen officials from the country’s income tax department turned up at the BBC offices in Delhi, where hundreds of employees are based, to conduct a “survey”. Documents and phones of several journalists were taken and the offices were sealed.

Officers told local media the searches on Tuesday morning were part of a “tax evasion” investigation into the business operations of the BBC in India and several accounts and financial files were seized.

The BBC confirmed the raids at the offices and said it was fully cooperating. “We hope to have this situation resolved as soon as possible,” said the statement.

The raids come as the BBC is at the centre of a controversy in India over a two-part documentary series, India: The Modi Question, which focused on the role that Modi, who was then the chief minister of Gujarat, played in violent Hindu-Muslim riots that ripped through his state in 2002 and left more than 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead.

Modi has been haunted for years by allegations of his complicity in the violence, and they led to him being banned from the US for almost a decade. The BBC documentary revealed that a British government document from the time had found Modi “directly responsible” for not stopping the killings of Muslims during the riots, and said the violence had “all the hallmarks of genocide”.

The series was not released in India but prompted an outcry from the Modi government, who accused the broadcaster of bias and a “colonial mindset”, pointing out that Modi was cleared of all charges by a supreme court panel in 2012.

Emergency laws were invoked to ban any links or clips of the documentary being shared on social media. In defiance of the ban, students across the country staged screenings of the documentary at universities and several were detained by police.

The BBC has stood firm by the documentary, stating that it was “rigorously researched according to highest editorial standards”.

Following the searches, Gaurav Bhatia, a spokesperson from Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), described the BBC as the “most corrupt organisation in the world”.

“If any company or organisation is working in India, they have to comply with the Indian law. Why are you scared if you are adhering to the law? The [tax] department should be allowed to do their work,” he said.

The raids of the BBC were criticised by members of the opposition. “At the time India holds the presidency of the G20 nations, PM Modi continues to brazenly show India’s slide into authoritarianism and dictatorship,” said the Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi in a tweet.

Akhilesh Yadav, leader of the Samajwadi party, said: “When a government stands for fear and oppression instead of fearlessness, then one should realise the end is near.”

The BBC has been under increased scrutiny since the furore over the documentary, including a petition to the supreme court to have the BBC banned in India, which was dismissed by the judges.

The BBC is just the latest organisation to be hit with a tax evasion investigation following critical reporting on the Modi government. The India operations of Amnesty International, which had produced several reports on the erosion of human rights and freedom of speech in India, had to be shuttered in 2020 after their accounts were frozen by a central government agency.


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