West News Wire: For the second day in a row, Indian tax officials reportedly raided the BBC’s offices in Mumbai and New Delhi and questioned employees about the organization’s operations there.

Staff who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media said that the BBC management instructed editorial and other staff members to work from home after they were able to leave the office on Tuesday night.

The staff members who were previously instructed to not use their phones and to keep them aside reported on Wednesday that there was no overnight break in the search and that investigators inspected the desktops of some employees.

An staffer of the BBC in New Delhi claimed that during the tax raid, officers had been “confiscating all phones.”

Indian income tax officials have not made any statements since the searches were launched in the BBC’s New Delhi and Mumbai offices on Tuesday morning.

The Press Trust of India news agency said the officials were making copies of electronic and paper-based financial data from the organisation.

India’s tax department is investigating the BBC’s “deliberate non-compliance with the transfer pricing rules” and its “vast diversion of profits”, the Indian Express newspaper reported.

According to officials, the focus of the so-called surveys is to look into “manipulation of prices for unauthorised benefits, including tax advantages”, the report said.

The tax raids came nearly a month after the BBC aired a two-part documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 riots in his home state of Gujarat, in which more than 1,000 people most of them Muslims were killed. Activists have put the toll at more than twice that number.

The second portion of the two-hour documentary, India: The Modi Question, examined “the track record of Narendra Modi’s government following his re-election in 2019”, according to the BBC website.

The programme drew an immediate backlash from India’s government, which invoked emergency powers under its information technology laws to block it from being shown in the country.

Local authorities scrambled to stop screenings organised at some Indian universities, and social media platforms, including Twitter and YouTube, complied with government requests to remove links to the documentary.

The BBC said 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,” its statement said.

India’s foreign ministry called the documentary a “propaganda piece designed to push a particularly discredited narrative” that lacked objectivity.

Press freedom in the world’s biggest democracy has suffered during Modi’s tenure, rights activists say. The opposition Congress party condemned the raids, saying there was an “undeclared emergency” in the country.

“First came the BBC documentary, that was banned,” the party said on Twitter. “Now IT has raided BBC,” it continued, referring to the Income Tax Department. “Undeclared emergency.”

A spokesman for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused the broadcaster of engaging in “anti-India propaganda”, but said the raids were lawful and the timing had nothing to do with the government.

“India is a country which gives an opportunity to every organisation,” Gaurav Bhatia told reporters, “as long as you don’t spew venom.”

“If you have been following the law of the country, if you have nothing to hide, why be afraid of an action that is according to the law?”

The 2002 riots in Gujarat began after 59 Hindu pilgrims were killed in a fire on a train. Thirty-one Muslims were convicted of criminal conspiracy and murder over that incident.

The BBC documentary cited a previously classified British foreign ministry report quoting unnamed sources saying that Modi met senior police officers and “ordered them not to intervene” in the anti-Muslim violence by right-wing Hindu groups that followed the train fire.

The violence was intended “to purge Muslims from Hindu areas”, the ministry report said.

The “systematic campaign of violence has all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing” and was impossible “without the climate of impunity created by the state Government”, it concluded.

Modi, who ran Gujarat from 2001 until his election as prime minister in 2014, was briefly subject to a travel ban by the United States over the violence.

A special investigative team appointed by India’s Supreme Court to investigate the roles of Modi and others in the violence said in 2012 it did not find any evidence to prosecute him.

Washington, which has been building relations with India, declined to weigh in on the BBC raid.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US believed in the “importance of free press” which contributes to “strengthening democracies around the world” but that he was “not in a position to offer a judgement” on whether the raid went counter to that.


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