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Tax raids at BBC offices in India enter second day

Raids of BBC offices by government officials in India have entered a second day as a tax investigation continues, just weeks after the release of a documentary critical of prime minister Narendra Modi.

According to reports, searches of the BBC offices in Delhi and Mumbai continued overnight and into Wednesday morning as officials went through documents and seized phones and laptops of journalists and employees at the broadcaster.

Dozens of employees were held in their offices for hours by officials from the income tax department on Tuesday.

“The Income Tax Authorities remain at the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai. Many staff have now left the building, but some have been asked to remain and are continuing to cooperate with the ongoing enquiries” said BBC news in a tweet late on Tuesday evening.

Officials have said they are investigating the BBC for tax evasion, diversion of profits and non-compliance of Indian law. The BBC said they were cooperating fully with the searches.

The investigation comes just weeks after the release of a BBC documentary, India: The Modi Question, which angered the government. The documentary looked at the rising tensions between Modi and India’s minority Muslim population and revisited allegations that Modi was complicit in inciting religious riots in Gujarat in 2002 which killed 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.

The government had condemned the documentary as “a propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative” alleging that the “bias, the lack of objectivity, and a continuing colonial mindset, is blatantly visible.”

The BBC has said the documentary was “rigorously researched according to highest editorial standards”. It features interviews with figures from the ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) but the Modi government did not respond to their requests for comment.

The documentary was not released in India but emergency laws were invoked to ban any clips or links to the documentary being shared on social media, with posts on Twitter and YouTube taken down at the government’s request. At universities across the country, students protested the apparent censorship and defiantly held screenings of the documentary, leading to several arrests.

Following the news of the raids on Tuesday, the spokesperson for the BJP did not hold back his vitriol for the BBC, calling it “the most corrupt organisation in the world”.

Numerous press bodies and opposition politicians condemned the searches. The Editors’ Guild of India said the raids were part of a wider “trend of using government agencies to intimidate or harass press organisations that are critical of government policies”.

The international response to the raids has been muted. In the US, state department spokesperson Ned Price said he was aware of the action but was “not in a position to comment” but added that the US government “continue to highlight the importance of freedom of expression’.

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