Tax officials raid BBC India office after documentary critical of Modi

Published February 14, 2023
In this file photo taken on January 24, 2023, people watch the BBC documentary “India: The Modi Question”, on a screen installed at the Marine Drive junction under the direction of the district Congress committee, in Kochi.—Photo by Arun Chandrabose/AFP
In this file photo taken on January 24, 2023, people watch the BBC documentary “India: The Modi Question”, on a screen installed at the Marine Drive junction under the direction of the district Congress committee, in Kochi.—Photo by Arun Chandrabose/AFP

Indian tax authorities raided BBC’s New Delhi offices on Tuesday, weeks after it aired a documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s actions during deadly sectarian riots in 2002.

Police sealed off the building and half a dozen officers were stationed outside the office — which occupies two floors — to prevent people from entering or leaving.

A BBC employee based in the office told AFP that the tax raid was in progress and that officials were “confiscating all phones”.

“There is government procedure happening inside the office,” an official said, declining to disclose their department.

India’s Income Tax Department could not be reached for comment by AFP.

After the raids, BJP spokesman Gaurav Bhatia told reporters that “the BBC indulges in anti-India propaganda”. “India is a country which gives an opportunity to every organisation… as long as you don’t spew venom. “

Last month, the broadcaster aired a two-part documentary alleging that Modi ordered police to turn a blind eye to sectarian riots in Gujarat state, where he was premier at the time.

The violence left at least 1,000 people dead, most of them minority Muslims. India’s government blocked videos and tweets sharing links to the documentary using emergency powers under its information technology laws.

Government adviser Kanchan Gupta had slammed the documentary as “hostile propaganda and anti-India garbage”.

University student groups later organised viewings of the documentary despite campus bans, defying government efforts to stop its spread. Police arrested two dozen students at the prestigious Delhi University after stopping a screening there.

‘Campaign of violence’

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

The BBC documentary cited a previously classified British foreign ministry report quoting unnamed sources saying that Modi met senior police officers and “ordered them not to intervene” in the anti-Muslim violence by right-wing Hindu groups that followed.

The violence was “politically motivated” and the aim “was to purge Muslims from Hindu areas”, the foreign ministry report said.

The “systematic campaign of violence has all the hallmarks 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 ran Gujarat from 2001 until his election as prime minister in 2014, was briefly subject to a travel ban by the United States over the violence.

A special investigative team appointed by India’s Supreme Court to probe the roles of Modi and others in the violence said in 2012 it did not find any evidence to prosecute the then chief minister.

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