India tax officers search BBC offices after row over Modi documentary

New Delhi, Feb 14 (EFE).- Dozens of India’s tax officers searched BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai on Tuesday, a month after the British public broadcaster released a controversial documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role during the 2002 deadly anti-Muslim riots in the country.

The British Broadcasting Corporation confirmed that Income Tax department sleuths were at its offices in the Indian capital and the western city of Mumbai. It did not explain why the searches were conducted.

“We are fully collaborating,” the broadcaster said. “We hope to have this situation resolved as soon as possible.”

A security person at the BBC office in New Delhi told EFE on condition of anonymity that IT officers were checking the accounts of the national broadcaster headquartered in the United Kingdom.

As IT officers searched, a battery of journalists, TV news crews, and onlookers waited outside the Hindustan Times building that houses the BBC office near Connaught Place, in central Delhi.

Various Indian media houses said the tax agency seized some documents, mobile phones, and laptops of BBC workers at the offices.

Indian broadcaster NDTV citing unnamed IT sources said the tax department sleuths “have gone to review the account books” for a probe.

The tax searches at the BBC offices sparked anti-government condemnation from India’s opposition.

“Time and again, there has been an assault on freedom of the press under (the) Modi govt,” main opposition party Indian National Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge tweeted.

“This is done with brazen & unapologetic vengeance to strangulate remotely critical voices,” Kharge said. “No democracy can survive if institutions are used to attack opposition & media.”

The ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) defended the search operation, saying if a government agency was doing its job, “we should let them do.”

“If any organization is working in India, it needs to adhere to the law of the country. If they have not done anything wrong, why are they scared?” BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia told reporters.

Bhatia lashed out at the opposition over its criticism of tax searches at the BBC offices.

“On what pretext are the Congress and the Samajwadi Party (opposition parties) standing with the anti-national elements? Whether it is China or BBC, they stand up with the enemies of the country,” Bhatia said.

The BJP spokesperson said the BBC was a “corrupt corporation” that spewed “venom” while operating in India. “The BBC indulges in anti-India propaganda.”

The BJP leader said the timing of the search operation had nothing to do with BBC’s documentary, “India: The Modi Question,” which has caused a storm in the country and infuriated the government of the Hindu nationalist prime minister.

The documentary has not been aired in India by the BBC. However, the federal government has banned it and prohibited people from sharing clips on social media, citing emergency powers under its information technology laws.

The documentary examines Modi’s role in the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the western state of Gujarat.

Modi was the chief minister of the western state then.

The death of 59 Hindu pilgrims during a fire on a train, blamed on Muslims, unleashed a wave of communal violence in the state.

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