Several rights bodies, including the Press Club of India, Amnesty International, and Committee to Protect Journalists, raised deep concerns over the three-day-long ‘survey’ operation conducted by Indian Income Tax authorities at the offices of British broadcaster BBC in Delhi and Mumbai. The BBC offices were targeted barely a month after it released a controversial two-part documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots.
The Income Tax authorities’ operation was also condemned by opposition parties in India. The BBC quoted tax authorities as saying that they had discovered irregularities in the media organization’s accounting books.
Media reports said that the data from some digital devices was cloned during the raid that began on Tuesday and concluded on Thursday.
“The Income Tax Authorities have left our offices in Delhi and Mumbai. We will continue to cooperate with the authorities and hope matters are resolved as soon as possible,” the BBC News Press Team stated in a tweet.
Update on India: pic.twitter.com/rghvE6OpfQ
— BBC News Press Team (@BBCNewsPR) February 16, 2023
Many in India see the raid as a response to the BBC’s two-part documentary ‘India: The Modi Question’ that critically examined the role of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat when riots took place in the State that killed over 1,000 people, mostly Muslims. The first part of the documentary was released on January 17 and the second on January 24. The Indian government had ordered YouTube and Twitter to take down links sharing the documentary, calling it false propaganda.
The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Indian authorities to stop harassing journalists. In September 2022, after similar ‘surveys’ on research and media organizations, including Oxfam India, Yamini Mishra, South Asia Regional Director at Amnesty International, had said the government was weaponizing its financial investigative agencies to “harass, intimidate, silence and criminalize independent critical voices.”
Since the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party came into power in India in 2014, it has been criticized for cracking down on independent media organizations, human right defenders, unions, and other dissenting voices.
In May 2022, on World Press Freedom Day, a number of journalist and rights’ groups called on authorities in the country to “respect the right to freedom of expression and release any journalists detained on trumped-up or politically motivated charges for their critical reporting and stop targeting journalists and muzzling independent media.”
Authorities have earlier carried out similar raids against many rights bodies—including Oxfam India, Amnesty International, and the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society—as well as critical media outlets like Newslaundry and NewsClick. The offices of Dainik Bhaskar Group and Bharat Samachar were also ‘surveyed’ in July 2021.