NEW DELHI — Officers from India’s Revenue Tax Division searched the BBC’s places of work in New Delhi and Mumbai on Tuesday, weeks after it broadcast a controversial documentary about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the British broadcaster mentioned.
The BBC mentioned it was cooperating absolutely. “We hope to have this case resolved as quickly as potential,” it mentioned in a press release.
Groups from the tax division are paperwork associated to the BBC’s enterprise operations and its Indian arm, the Press Belief of India information company reported, citing unidentified sources.
Indian tax authorities declined to remark.
Rights teams and opposition politicians denounced the transfer as an intimidation tactic meant to quash the media.
The search continues “a pattern of utilizing authorities companies to intimidate and harass press organizations which can be vital of presidency insurance policies or the ruling institution,” the Editors Guild of India mentioned in a press release.
The investigation is “undemocratic” and “reeks of desperation and exhibits that the Modi authorities is afraid of criticism,” tweeted Ok.C. Venugopal, common secretary of the opposition Congress occasion. “We condemn these intimidation techniques within the harshest phrases.”
Gaurav Bhatia, a spokesperson for Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Get together, mentioned the BBC should not have something to worry if it follows Indian legal guidelines. However he added that the historical past of the BBC is “tainted” and “stuffed with hatred” for India and known as the broadcaster corrupt, with out providing any specifics.
Final month, the BBC broadcast a documentary within the U.Ok. titled “India: The Modi Query” that examined Modi’s position throughout 2002 anti-Muslim riots within the western state of Gujarat, the place he was chief minister on the time. Greater than 1,000 folks had been killed within the violence.
Modi has denied allegations that authorities beneath his watch allowed and even inspired the bloodshed, and the Supreme Courtroom mentioned it discovered no proof to prosecute him. Final 12 months, the court docket dismissed a petition filed by a Muslim sufferer questioning Modi’s exoneration.
The second portion of the two-part documentary examined “the monitor file of Narendra Modi’s authorities following his re-election in 2019,” in response to this system’s description on the BBC web site.
This system prompted a right away backlash from the federal government, which invoked emergency powers beneath its info expertise legal guidelines to dam it. Native authorities scrambled to cease screenings organized at numerous Indian universities, and social media platforms together with Twitter and YouTube complied with authorities requests to take away hyperlinks to the documentary.
Critics and political opponents decried the ban as an assault on press freedom in India.
The BBC mentioned in a press release on the time that the documentary was “rigorously researched” and concerned a variety of voices and opinions.
“We supplied the Indian Authorities a proper to answer to the issues raised within the collection — it declined to reply,” the assertion mentioned.
India’s Overseas Ministry known as the documentary a “propaganda piece designed to push a very discredited narrative” that lacked objectivity.
Many lawmakers from Modi’s occasion criticized this system as an assault on India’s sovereignty. Final week, Hindu right-wing nationalists petitioned the Supreme Courtroom for an entire ban on the BBC. The court docket dismissed their plea, calling it “completely meritless.”
Human Rights Watch mentioned earlier that the banning of the documentary displays a broader crackdown on minorities beneath the Modi authorities, which the rights group mentioned has incessantly invoked draconian legal guidelines to muzzle criticism. Lately, India’s Muslim minority has been on the receiving finish of violence from Hindu nationalists emboldened by a main minister who has mentioned little about such assaults since he was first elected in 2014.
Press freedom in India has been on a gentle decline lately. The nation fell eight locations, to 150 out of 180 nations, within the 2022 Press Freedom Index printed by Reporters With out Borders. Media watchdog teams additionally accuse the Modi authorities of silencing criticism on social media beneath a sweeping web legislation that places digital platforms together with Twitter and Fb beneath direct authorities oversight.
Some media shops vital of the federal government have been subjected to tax searches.
Authorities searched the places of work of the left-leaning web site NewsClick and unbiased media portal Newslaundry on the identical day in 2021. Tax officers additionally accused the Dainik Bhaskar newspaper of tax evasion in 2021 after it printed experiences of mass funeral pyres and floating corpses that disputed the federal government’s dealing with of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2017, the federal government’s investigation bureau mentioned it was probing circumstances of mortgage defaults when it raided the places of work of New Delhi Tv, identified for its liberal slant.
Related Press journalists Sheikh Saaliq and Piyush Nagpal contributed to this report.