NEW DELHI (AP) — Officials from India’s Income Tax Department searched the BBC’s offices in New Delhi on Tuesday, weeks after the British broadcaster released a controversial documentary about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, three members of its staff said.
The employees asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Teams from the tax department searched the BBC’s offices in both New Delhi and Mumbai, the Press Trust of India news agency reported, quoting unidentified officials. They said the department is looking at documents related to the BBC’s business operations and those related to its Indian arm.
Indian tax authorities declined to comment. The BBC was not immediately available to comment.
Last month, the BBC broadcast a documentary in the U.K. titled “India: The Modi Question” that examined Modi’s role during 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the western state of Gujarat, where he was chief minister at the time. More than 1,000 people were killed.
Modi has denied allegations that authorities under his watch allowed and even encouraged the bloodshed, and the Supreme Court said it found no evidence to prosecute him. Last year, the court dismissed a petition filed by a Muslim victim questioning Modi’s exoneration.
The second portion of the two-part documentary “examines the track record of Narendra Modi’s government following his re-election in 2019,” according to the film’s description on the BBC website.
The Indian government banned the documentary and authorities scrambled to halt screenings and restrict clips of it on social media in a move that critics and political opponents decried as an assault on press freedom.
The government invoked emergency powers under its information technology laws to block the program. Twitter and YouTube complied with government requests and removed many links to the documentary.
India’s Foreign Ministry at the time called the documentary a “propaganda piece designed to push a particularly discredited narrative” that lacked objectivity. Many lawmakers from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party criticized the program as an attack on India’s sovereignty.
The BBC said in a statement at the time that the documentary was “rigorously researched” and involved a wide range of voices and opinions.
“We offered the Indian Government a right to reply to the matters raised in the series — it declined to respond,” the statement said.
Last week, Hindu right-wing nationalists petitioned the Supreme Court for a complete ban on the BBC in the wake of the program. The court dismissed their plea, calling it “absolutely meritless.”
The search of the BBC’s offices is “undemocratic” and “reeks of desperation and shows that the Modi government is scared of criticism,” tweeted K.C. Venugopal, general secretary of the opposition Congress party. “We condemn these intimidation tactics in the harshest terms.”
In recent years, India’s Muslim minority has been at the receiving end of violence from Hindu nationalists emboldened by a prime minister who has said little about such attacks since he was first elected in 2014.
Human Rights Watch said earlier that the banning of the documentary reflects a broader crackdown on minorities under the Modi government, which the rights group said has frequently invoked draconian laws to muzzle criticism.