On February 14, India’s Income Tax Department conducted a search of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)’s offices in Delhi and Mumbai, investigating alleged tax evasion charges. In a statement on social media, the BBC said the outlet is fully cooperating and expressed hope that the operation could be resolved swiftly.
The search operation comes after the publication of a two-part BBC documentary, titled India: The Modi Question, in which the now-Prime Minister’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots was interrogated. The documentary was widely criticised by Indian authorities, who invoked emergency laws to ban the streaming and sharing of the documentary on YouTube and Twitter.
India’s foreign ministry claimed the documentary displayed clear bias, a lack of objectivity, and perpetuated colonialism through its critical portrayal of Prime Minister Modi. In January, over a dozen students were detained for planning a screening of the documentary series.
The documentary examines rising tensions between the leadership of Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and India’s Muslim minority. The first episode of the series investigates Modi’s role in Gujarat’s 2002 sectarian riots as the state’s then-Chief Minister. The documentary, which featured previously unseen UK government reports on the incident, revived accusations of the Prime Minister’s involvement and complicity in the violence, during which over 1,000, predominately Muslim, people died.
The IJU said: “The Indian Journalists Union condemns in the strongest terms the Income Tax raids conducted on the BBC’s New Delhi and Mumbai offices. Such actions put a big question mark on the government’s commitment to press freedom as the world’s largest democracy. The IJU demands the government refrain from such vindictive actions and let the media do its work if it had nothing to hide”
The IFJ said: “The raiding of BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai is deplorable and represents the dangerous erosion of press freedom in India. Critical and independent reporting is essential in any healthy democracy and the persecution of BBC is incompatible with India’s established commitments to freedom of expression. The International Federation of Journalists condemns the raid on BBC offices and urges the Indian government to cease its intimidation of journalists and media workers.”