Indian Tax Agents Raid BBC Offices After Airing of Scathing Modi Documentary

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Indian tax agents raided the offices of the BBC in New Delhi and Mumbai on Tuesday, weeks after the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to stop the dissemination of a documentary by the broadcaster that criticized his treatment of the country’s Muslim minority.

The Indian authorities under Mr. Modi have often used such raids against independent media organizations, human rights groups and think tanks in what activists call an effort to harass critical voices into silence by targeting their funding sources. Rights groups have repeatedly expressed concern about the dwindling freedom of the press, with journalists and activists thrown in jail for long periods or mired in court cases that drag on in India’s labyrinthine judiciary.

A spokesman for India’s governing party confirmed the BBC raids at a news conference. About a dozen tax agents entered the British public broadcaster’s office in central New Delhi just before noon, blocking access to the building’s fifth floor, where the BBC offices are located, a police officer posted outside the building said.

Gaurav Bhatia, the spokesman for Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, said the BBC had nothing to fear if it had done nothing wrong. He then unleashed verbal attacks on the broadcaster, including calling its reporting propaganda.

“It can’t be the whims and fancies of a corporation,” Mr. Bhatia said at the news conference, laying out what he called examples of a “hidden agenda” in BBC reporting. “This cannot be tolerated.”

In a brief statement on Tuesday afternoon, the BBC said: “The income tax authorities are currently at the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai, and we are fully cooperating. We hope to have this situation resolved as soon as possible.”

The two-part BBC documentary, called “India: The Modi Question,” revisits Mr. Modi’s role during one of India’s bloodiest episodes of communal violence, in Gujarat, when he was the state’s chief minister two decades ago. It also examines his party’s treatment of the country’s 200 million Muslims since he became prime minister in 2014.

The deaths of nearly 60 Hindu pilgrims in a 2002 fire on a train, for which Mr. Modi’s supporters blamed local Muslim groups, prompted a wave of retaliatory mob violence in which more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed, and about 150,000 uprooted.

Mr. Modi has long faced questions about whether his state government, instead of containing the anger, encouraged the mobs. While much of the reporting in the BBC documentary was already well known in India, it also included a secret British government report that blamed Mr. Modi for the retaliatory violence.

His lieutenants have questioned the timing of the documentary. By resurfacing old allegations for which Mr. Modi has been cleared by India’s Supreme Court, they said, the BBC was mounting an attack on India’s rise on the global stage under its powerful leader.

The documentary quickly became a focus of India’s raucous domestic politics, as the government tried to stop its distribution in the country — going as far as cutting off electricity and detaining student leaders before screenings at universities.

The BBC has defended its reporting, saying that the documentary was “rigorously researched” and that “a wide range of voices, witnesses and experts were approached, and we have featured a range of opinions, including responses from people in the B.J.P.”

Sameer Yasir contributed reporting.


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