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India raids BBC offices on tax charges after critical Modi documentary


NEW DELHI — Indian tax authorities on Tuesday raided the BBC and seized its journalists’ phones in a stunning — and apparently retaliatory — move against the British broadcaster weeks after it aired a polarizing documentary examining Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rise.

Two BBC journalists in New Delhi, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said their colleagues’ phones were being confiscated. India media reported that more than 50 Indian officials raided the BBC’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai around noon on Tuesday.

An Indian official familiar with the case confirmed the financial investigation of the BBC to The Washington Post, but spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. A spokeswoman for the BBC in New Delhi could not immediately be reached for comment.

Censorship, arrests, power cuts. India scrambles to block BBC documentary.

Gaurav Bhatia, a spokesman for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, told reporters the BBC “must work within India laws” and called the organization “corrupt” without offering specifics, instead listing a litany of perceived problems with its coverage.

“The BBC’s work has historically been tainted with its hatred for India,” Bhatia said. “Our constitution allows them to do unbiased journalism, but let me show you how they use journalism as a pretext to put forward their agenda.”

The raids took place less than a month after the Modi government took extraordinary measures to censor “India: The Modi Question,” a BBC film that resurfaced decades-old allegations that Modi failed to stop a bloody riot in Gujarat state while he served as chief minister of 2002.

After the documentary aired in Britain on Jan. 17, Indian authorities lashed out at the BBC for producing “propaganda,” cited emergency powers to force social media companies to remove links to the BBC’s videos, and detained student protesters who were organizing viewing parties on campuses across the country.

In recent weeks, Modi’s supporters have questioned why the BBC was revisiting the issue even though he was cleared in 2013 by Indian judges of charges that he had abetted the riot, which killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.

Some Indian right-wing organizations, including the Hindu Sena, have petitioned the courts to ban the BBC while other pro-government outlets, including Republic TV, have circulated a conspiracy theory that the British broadcaster is an agent of the Chinese Communist Party. (In China, the BBC is frequently criticized by government officials and its journalists occasionally assaulted by security forces.)

Indian media outlets that have published reports drawing the government’s ire have often faced tax scrutiny.

Fraud claims targeting Gautam Adani provoke nationalist backlash in India

In 2021, tax authorities raided the offices of the Dainik Bhaskar newspaper group after the Hindi-language broadsheet repeatedly challenged the government narrative about its successful handling of the covid-19 pandemic, reported on corpses floating in the Ganges River and published front-page photos of crowded funeral pyres.

The New Delhi Television network, known for its independent reporting, was also investigated for alleged financial malfeasance in 2017. And Newsclick, a left-leaning news portal that has published critical reports on subjects including Gautam Adani, the billionaire and Modi ally, was accused in 2021 of receiving money tied to China.

In the 2022 edition of the annual press freedom index published by the organization Reporters Without Borders, India fell to 150th place, out of 180 countries.

*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.