India accused of muzzling the press after 'tax raids' on BBC, in the wake of 'anti-Modi' documentary

India accused of muzzling the press after 'tax raids' on BBC, in the wake of 'anti-Modi' documentary
3 min read
16 February, 2023
Critics and opposition politicians have condemned tax raids on offices of the BJP, accusing Narendra Modi's government of using them to muzzle the press.
Critics accuse the Modi government of using the raids as retribution for BBC documentary criticising PM Modi [ARUN CHANDRABOSE/AFP via Getty Images]

Tax raids on the offices of the BBC in India have been widely criticised by rights groups and opposition politicians, who have accused the government of a crackdown on the media after the British broadcaster released a documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month. 

The raids went on for two days, according to reports, where the income tax officials searched the BBC’s offices in Delhi and Mumbai, seizing phones and laptops belonging to journalists. 

Congress party parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor called the move a "deplorable own-goal" by Narendra Modi’s right-wing  Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, saying the move could "confirm" the BJP’s attempt to muzzle the press. 

"No institution is above the law, but the raids by 20 tax officials on the @BBC's Delhi & Mumbai offices &studios are a deplorable own-goal. They will be seen worldwide as petty retaliation for the BBC documentary & as confirmation of the BJP Govt's drive to stifle press freedom," he tweeted on Tuesday. 

A politician from the rival Aam Aadmi Party was critical of the move, saying the tax raid was not just a raid on the BBC, but was instead “a message to the media” that they will not be spared if they show or print something criticising Modi or the BJP. 

Amnesty International also condemned the tax raids, saying they were an "affront to free speech."

"The Indian authorities are clearly trying to harass and intimidate the BBC over its critical coverage of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party," the rights group said in a statement, adding: "The overbroad powers of the Income Tax Department are repeatedly being weaponized to silence dissent. [...] These intimidatory acts, which undermine the right to freedom of expression in India, must end now."

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The Modi government has repeatedly been accused of using tax raids to harass and intimidate its opponents or those that criticise its policies. Last year, Indian income tax authorities raided the offices of Oxfam India, the Independent and Public-Spirited Media Foundation, and the Center for Policy Research, and in 2021 on the offices of Newslaundry and Newsclick - watchdogs and media houses that regularly criticise the BJP administration. 

The BBC’s two-part documentary, titled ‘The Modi Question’ was released on 17 January 2023, and shed a light on the alleged role of Narendra Modi during the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, where he was chief minister at the time. 

The Indian government banned the documentary in India, inadvertently raising its profile among Indians at home and abroad.