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Indian tax agents raid BBC for 2nd day, after it aired documentary critical of Modi

A police officer stands at the entrance of the office building where Indian tax authorities raided BBC's office in New Delhi on Tuesday.
Sajjad Hussain
/
AFP via Getty Images
A police officer stands at the entrance of the office building where Indian tax authorities raided BBC's office in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Updated February 15, 2023 at 3:12 AM ET

MUMBAI, India — Indian tax agents conducted what they called "surveys" of BBC offices in Delhi and Mumbai for a second consecutive day Wednesday, just weeks after the British broadcaster aired a documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

More than a dozen income tax officials first entered BBC newsrooms early Tuesday, seizing accounts, financial documents, and phones of BBC employees. They told those who had not yet come into the office to stay home. More than a 100 employees were in the offices at the time.

Condemnation has poured in from press freedom advocates inside India and around the world. The Press Club of India called the searches a "clear cut case of vendetta." Amnesty International called them an "affront to free speech."

Reaction was more muted though from the U.S. State Department, where spokesperson Ned Price referred journalists to Indian authorities. He said he was "not in a position to offer a judgement" but added that Washington supports "the importance of free press around the world."

The searches came weeks after the BBC aired a two-part documentary series critical of India's prime minister, Narendra Modi. India: The Modi Question examined Modi's role in anti-Muslim raids that killed hundreds in his home state of Gujarat in 2002.

Modi's government banned it from being shown inside India and forced social media companies like Twitter and YouTube to take down clips using emergency laws.

After the documentary aired, a Hindu nationalist organization petitioned the country's Supreme Court to ban the BBC in India. The Supreme Court dismissed it.

A spokesperson for Modi's party held a news conference Tuesday and told the media that the BBC was "rubbish" and alleged that it was "corrupt."

The BBC says it's "fully cooperating" with Indian authorities.

The Modi government has pressed tax fraud cases against several independent media and human rights groups that have criticized it in the past. In 2020, Amnesty International was forced to halt operations in India after authorities froze its bank accounts amid alleged financial irregularities.

Last year, Indiafell to 150 out of 180 countries surveyed by Reporters Without Borders in its annual Press Freedom Index, its lowest rank ever.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Raksha Kumar
Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.