Intl desk, Feb 14: BBC offices in India have been searched as part of an investigation by income tax authorities.
The searches in New Delhi and Mumbai come weeks after the broadcaster aired a documentary in the UK critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, reports BBC.
The documentary focused on the prime minister’s role in anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002, when he was chief minister of the state.
The BBC said that it was “fully co-operating” with authorities.
“We hope to have this situation resolved as soon as possible,” a short statement added.
Although the documentary was only broadcast on television in the UK, India’s government has attempted to block people sharing India: The Modi Question online, calling it “hostile propaganda and anti-India garbage” with a “colonial mind-set”.
Last month, police in Delhi detained students as they gathered to watch the film.
The general secretary of the opposition Congress party, KC Venugopal, said Tuesday’s search “reeks of desperation and shows that the Modi government is scared of criticism”.
“We condemn these intimidation tactics in the harshest terms. This undemocratic and dictatorial attitude cannot go on any longer,” he tweeted.
But Gaurav Bhatia, a spokesman from Mr Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), described the BBC as the “most corrupt organisation in the world”.
“India is a country which gives an opportunity to every organisation,” he said, “as long as you don’t spew venom.”
He added the searches were lawful and the timing had nothing to do with the government.
The Editors Guild of India said it was “deeply concerned” about the searches.
They are a “continuation of a trend of using government agencies to intimidate and harass press organisations that are critical of government policies or the ruling establishment”, it said.
The documentary tracks Mr Modi’s first steps into politics, including his rise through the ranks of the BJP to his appointment as chief minister of the western state of Gujarat.
It highlights a previously unpublished report, obtained by the BBC from the UK Foreign Office, which raises questions about Mr Modi’s actions during the religious riots.
The rioting began the day after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was set on fire, killing dozens. More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the subsequent violence.
The Foreign Office report claims that Mr Modi was “directly responsible” for the “climate of impunity” that enabled the violence.
Mr Modi has long rejected accusations against him, and has not apologised for the riots. In 2013, a Supreme Court panel also said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him.
The BBC said last month that the Indian government was offered a right to reply to the documentary but it declined.
The broadcaster said the film was “rigorously researched” and “a wide range of voices, witnesses and experts were approached, and we have featured a range of opinions, including responses from people in the BJP”.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was asked in the UK Parliament last month about the documentary. He said “we don’t tolerate persecution anywhere”, but added that “he did not agree with the characterisation” of Mr Modi.
The targeting of organisations seen as critical of the government is not uncommon in India.
In 2020, Amnesty International was forced to halt its India operations, with the group accusing the government of pursuing a “witch-hunt” against human rights organisations.
Oxfam was also searched last year along with other local non-government organisations.