Indian tax officials continued their search of the BBC’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai for the third consecutive day, two sources with knowledge of the matter told News84Media, weeks after the country banned a documentary from the British broadcaster that was critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alleged role in deadly riots more than 20 years ago.
BBC employees have been told not to disclose information about the searches. A spokesperson for the broadcaster said it was cooperating with authorities.
Some staff members were asked to remain at the offices overnight on Tuesday, the BBC said. But the offices are now open for people to enter and leave as needed.
The searches come nearly a month after the Indian government said it banned the two-part documentary, “India: The Modi Question,” from being aired in the country and used “emergency powers” to block clips of the film from circulating on social media. domestically. Twitter and YouTube complied with the order, the government said.
The documentary revives the most controversial chapter of the Indian leader’s political career, when he was the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat in 2002.
Modi was accused of not doing enough to stop some of the most heinous violence in India’s post-independence history, when riots broke out between the state’s majority Hindus and minority Muslims.
More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the violence and at least 220 more went missing, according to government figures.
Modi has denied accusations that he failed to stop the violence. A special investigation team appointed by India’s Supreme Court in 2012 found no evidence to suggest he was to blame.
Two years later, Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party rose to power in India, riding on a wave of Hindu nationalism in the country of 1.3 billion, where nearly 80% of the population follow the faith.
The government’s move to block the documentary polarized opinion in the world’s largest democracy. Critics decried it as an assault on press freedom, while Modi’s supporters rallied to his defense.
India’s main opposition Congress party described the ongoing tax searches at the BBC offices as a “brazen attack” on India’s free press.
“If someone tries to shed light on the prime minister’s past, or dig out details of his past…the present and future of that media house will be destroyed by his agencies. That is the reality,” the party’s media department head, Pawan Khera, told reporters Wednesday. “India is the mother of democracy but why is India’s prime minister the father of hypocrisy?”
The BJP has tried to justify the move by saying nobody in the country is above the law.
Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, the party’s spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia said companies, including media agencies, must “follow and respect Indian law.”
“Anyone, any agency, whether tied to the media, a company, if they are working in India, they must follow and respect Indian law. If they follow the law, then why should they be scared or worried? Let the Income Department do its job,” he said.
The raids raised fears of censorship in India, with several media organizations issuing statements condemning the government’s actions.
Now ranked between Turkey and Sudan, India dropped eight places to 150 out of 180 nations in last year’s World Press Freedom Index published by the Paris-based group, Reporters Without Borders.
The Press Club of India said in a Tuesday statement the raids “will damage the reputation and image of India as the world’s largest democracy.”
“It is deeply unfortunate as this latest instance appears to be a clear cut case of vendetta, coming within weeks of a documentary aired by the BBC,” it said, urging the government to “restrain its agencies from misusing its powers in order to intimidate the media.”