BBC offices in India raided amid controversy over documentary critical of Modi

Police at the entrance of the office in New Delhi (AFP) (SAJJAD HUSSAIN /)

The indian tax authorities registered this Tuesday the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai, weeks after the network aired a documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s performance during deadly sectarian riots in 2002.

A spokesman for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused the station of doing “anti indian propaganda”, but assured that the raids were legal and that the moment chosen had nothing to do with the government.

“India is a country that gives opportunities to all organizations,” Gaurav Bhatia told reporters, “as long as you don’t spew poison.” “If you have been following the law of the land, if you have nothing to hide, why fear an action that is in accordance with the law?”

In a statement on Twitter, the network said it was “fully cooperating” with authorities. “We hope that this situation will be resolved as soon as possible,” they added.

Police cordoned off the BBC’s New Delhi office, which occupies two floors of a skyscraper on a leafy avenue in the commercial heart of the capital. A BBC employee in New Delhi stated that the agents they had “seized all the phones” during the raid.

Members of the media report from outside the office building where Indian tax authorities raided BBC's office in New Delhi on February 14, 2023. - Indian tax authorities on February 14 raided the BBC's New Delhi office, a journalist at the broadcaster told AFP, weeks after it aired a documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  (Photo by Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP)
The building in which the TV network works in India (AFP) (SAJJAD HUSSAIN /)

Last month the BBC aired a Two-part documentary alleging that Hindu nationalist Modi ordered police to turn a blind eye to sectarian riots in the state of Gujarat, where he was prime minister at the time.

The violence ended with at least 1,000 deadThe majority of them Muslims belonging to minorities.

He Indian government blocked videos and tweets with links to the documentarywhich was not issued in the country, making use of the emergency powers granted by the laws on information technology.

Government adviser Kanchan Gupta had called the documentary “hostile propaganda and anti-Indian rubbish”.

Later, groups of university students organized viewings of the documentary despite the bans imposed on campuses, defying government efforts to stop its broadcast. Police detained two dozen students from the prestigious Delhi University after preventing a screening in late January.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 24, 2023, people watch the BBC documentary
Screening of the documentary in Kochi (AFP) (ARUN CHANDRABOSE /)

“First it was the BBC documentary, which was banned,” the opposition Congress party said on Twitter. “Now IT has raided the BBC,” he continued, referring to the Income Tax Department. “Undeclared emergency”.

Freedom of the press

Press freedom in the world’s largest democracy has suffered under Modi, rights activists and opposition lawmakers say. The opposition party, Congress, condemned the raids, stating that there was an “undeclared emergency” in the country.

India has fallen 10 places to 150 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Indexproduced by Reporters Without Borders, since Modi took office in 2014.

Critical reporters, especially women, say they are subjected to relentless campaigns of abuse on the Internet.

The media, international human rights groups and foreign charities have also come under scrutiny from India’s tax authorities and financial crime investigators.

Last year, the late Catholic nun Mother Teresa’s charity found itself temporarily without funds after the Home Office refused to renew its license to receive foreign donations.

Amnesty International announced it was suspending its operations in India after the government froze its bank accounts in 2020, following searches of its offices.

In 2021, Indian tax authorities carried out a raid on a prominent newspaper and television channel that had criticized the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, sparking allegations of intimidation.


violence campaign

The 2002 riots in Gujarat began after the death of 59 Hindu pilgrims in a train fire. Thirty-one Muslims were convicted of criminal conspiracy and murder for that incident.

The BBC documentary cited a previously classified British Foreign Office report in which Anonymous sources claimed that Modi met with senior police officials and “ordered them not to intervene” in anti-Muslim violence. of right-wing Hindu groups that followed.

The violence was “politically motivated” and the aim “was to purge Muslims from Hindu areas,” according to the Foreign Office report.

The “systematic campaign of violence has all the characteristics of ethnic cleansing” and was impossible “without the climate of impunity created by the State Government… Narendra Modi is directly responsible”, it concluded.

Modi, who led Gujarat from 2001 until his election as prime minister in 2014, was briefly subjected to a US travel ban over the violence.

In 2012, a special investigative team appointed by the Supreme Court of India to investigate the role of Modi and others in the violence stated that it had found no evidence to prosecute him.

(With information from AFP/by Uzair Rizvi)

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