Responding to the news that Indian tax department officials are carrying out ‘surveys’ at British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) offices in Delhi and Mumbai, mere weeks after the organization broadcasted a documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Aakar Patel, Chair of Amnesty International India’s Board, said:
“The tax department’s raids, which are being presented as ‘surveys’, come less than a month after the organization released a documentary that openly criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These raids are a blatant affront to freedom of expression. The Indian authorities are clearly trying to harass and intimidate the BBC over its critical coverage of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
“The overbroad powers of the Income Tax Department are repeatedly being weaponized to silence dissent. Last year, tax officials also raided the offices of a number of NGOs, including Oxfam India. These intimidatory acts, which undermine the right to freedom of expression in India, must end now.”
On Tuesday morning, Indian tax department officials raided BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai, under the guise of carrying out tax ‘surveys’. According to media reports, the phones and laptops of the employees have been seized by the officials and entry and exit to the premises has been restricted. The officials said the department was investigating alleged tax “irregularities”.
The raid comes less than a month after the BBC released ‘India: The Modi Question’, a two-part documentary that explores the Gujarat riots of 2002 and details the rise of advocacy hatred and violence by supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and also the shrinking space for dissent in the country, since Modi came to power in 2014. Upon the release of the documentary, members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party called BBC “corrupt” and “historically tainted with its hatred for India”.
The government said the documentary was a form of “propaganda” and used emergency powers to prevent people from viewing it on social media platforms such as Twitter and YouTube.
On 10 February, the Supreme Court of India dismissed a petition calling for the documentary to be banned. The Court called the petition “entirely misconceived”, “without merit” and disagreed with complete censorship of the documentary.