Indian authorities raid BBC offices after broadcast of Modi documentary

New Delhi (CNN) Indian tax authorities raided the BBC’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai on Tuesday, weeks after the country banned a British broadcaster documentary criticizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alleged role in deadly unrest more than 20 years ago.

BBC News reported on television that people had not been allowed in or out of the offices.

The raids come after the Indian government said it had used “emergency powers” to block the documentary’s broadcast in the country, adding that both YouTube and Twitter had complied with the order.

The move polarized reaction in the world’s largest democracy. Critics condemned it as an attack on press freedom, while Modi’s supporters rallied in his defense.

A BBC spokesman told CNN that the organization was “fully cooperating with the authorities”. “We hope that this situation will be resolved as soon as possible,” the spokesman said.

The two-part documentary India: The Modi Question criticized the then prime minister of the western state of Gujarat in 2002 when riots broke out between the state’s majority Hindu and Muslim minority. It aired in the UK in January.

According to the government, more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, have been killed in the violence and at least 220 others are missing. According to official figures, almost 1,000 women have been widowed, while more than 600 children have been orphaned.

Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party rose to power in India in 2014, riding a wave of Hindu nationalism in the country of 1.3 billion people, where nearly 80% of the population are followers of the faith.

The BBC said Jack Straw, who was Britain’s Foreign Secretary in 2002 and appears in the documentary, claims Modi “played a proactive role in withdrawing the police and quietly encouraging Hindu extremists”.

Modi has denied allegations that he failed to stop the violence. A special investigative team deployed by India’s Supreme Court in 2012 found no evidence he was guilty.

But the riots remain one of the darkest chapters in post-independence India’s history, and some victims are still awaiting justice.

Last month, some university students in Delhi who tried to watch the banned film on campus were arrested by police, raising concerns that freedoms would be curbed under Modi’s government.

fear of censorship

At a news conference on Tuesday, BJP spokesman Gaurav Bhatia said companies, including media agencies, must “follow and respect Indian law”.

“Anyone, any agency, whether affiliated with the media or a business, when working in India must follow and respect Indian laws. If they obey the law, why should they fear or worry? Let the Department of Income do its job,” he said.

India is a country that “gives every organization a chance” as long as they are willing to abide by the country’s constitution, Bhatia added.

The raids have fueled fears of censorship in India.

in one statement Tuesdaythe Editor’s Guild of India said it was “deeply concerned” by the development.

The raids are a “continuation of a trend of using government agencies to intimidate and harass press organizations that are critical of government policies or the ruling establishment,” it said. “This is a trend that undermines rule-of-law democracy.”

The statement gave examples of similar searches being carried out at the offices of various English-language local media outlets, including NewsClick and Newslaundry, and Hindi-language media organizations, including Dainik Bhaskar and Bharat Samachar.

“The Guild demands that great care and sensitivity be exercised in all such investigations so as not to undermine the rights of journalists and media organizations,” it said.

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