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India: Raids at BBC offices are an 'affront' to free speech

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India’s tax department raids BBC offices in Delhi and Mumbai on pretext of conducting ‘surveys’

Raids come just weeks after BBC documentary critical of Narendra Modi

‘The Indian authorities are clearly trying to harass and intimidate the BBC’ - Aakar Patel

Responding to news that the Indian tax department is carrying out “surveys” at BBC offices in Delhi and Mumbai, weeks after the broadcast of India: The Modi Question, a two-part BBC documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Aakar Patel, Amnesty International India’s Chair, said:

“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 Narendra Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

“The overbroad powers of the Income Tax Department are repeatedly being weaponised 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.”

Tax raids earlier today

On Tuesday morning, Indian tax department officials raided BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai, supposedly to conduct tax “surveys”. According to media reports, the phones and laptops of BBC staff 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”.

BJP reaction to documentary

The two-part India: The Modi Question documentary, broadcast on 17 and 24 January, explored the Gujarat riots of 2002 and charted the rise of hate speech and violence by supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and the shrinking space for dissent in the country since Modi came to power in 2014. When the documentary aired, BJP members called the BBC “corrupt” and “historically tainted with its hatred for India”. The Indian Government said the documentary was a form of “propaganda” and used emergency powers to prevent people in India from viewing it on social media platforms. 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” and “without merit”.

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