New Delhi — Dozens of government tax officials turned up at the BBC’s offices in India on Wednesday for a second day in a row as part of an “investigation” into alleged tax evasion by the British broadcaster. Indian news reports said laptops and mobile phones belonging to several journalists and staff were seized from BBC offices in Delhi and Mumbai on Tuesday by officials.

India’s income tax department said the “enquiry” was being conducted “in connection with the BBC’s willful non-compliance with the Transfer Pricing Rules and the massive diversion of profits”, calling the broadcaster a “repeated offender”.

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Policemen and security guards stand outside the gate of the BBC office building in New Delhi, India on February 14, 2023.

Altaf Qadri / AP

The BBC reported that it “fully cooperative“with the tax authorities.

“We are supporting our staff at this time and remain hopeful that this situation will be resolved as soon as possible,” the broadcaster said in statement. “Our production and journalism continues as normal and we are committed to serving our audience in India.”

In an email to staff in India, the BBC has urged everyone except broadcasting staff to work from home for the time being. The email noted that while no employee is required to answer questions about personal income, “they must answer other questions related to salary” and “answer questions comprehensively.”

The searches, which tax officials insisted should be called “surveys” rather than raids or searches for technical reasons, came weeks after the BBC aired a documentary in Britain critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the India Energy Week 2023 event in Bengaluru, India, on February 6, 2023.

Ayaz Rahi / AP

The documentary India: The Modi Question examines the prime minister’s role in the deadly religious riots in Gujarat in 2002, when he was chief minister of the western Indian state. More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died during the riots. Modi faced charges of complicity in the violence, but Indian courts cleared him of all charges in 2013.

Indian Govt The government banned any broadcast documentary in the country last month, calling it a “propaganda piece designed to promote a particular discredited narrative.”

The BBC said their documentary was “rigorously researched” and it stood by all the information presented.

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Security personnel block the main gate of Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi, India, on January 25, 2023, amid tensions over a student group’s plan to screen a banned documentary film examining the role of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the 2002 anti-Muslim riots. Mr.

Manish Swarup / AP

India’s opposition Congress party has condemned the tax department’s “survey” of BBC offices in the country, calling it a “scare tactic”.

“The IT raid on the BBC offices smacks of desperation and shows that the Modi government is afraid of criticism,” Congress leader CK Venugopal tweeted.

While tax officials described the searches as “routine”, Modi’s ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) lashed out at the BBC for “spewing venom against India” and said the income tax department should be allowed to do its job.

“The Constitution of India gives the BBC the right to do unbiased journalism, but I want to cite examples of an agenda being practiced in journalistic garb,” said Gaurav Bhatia, a BJP spokesman, during a press conference during the raids. performed.

“What kind of report is this [sic] The BBC described a Kashmiri a terrorist commander as a charismatic young militant?” Bhatia asked, citing what his party sees as “anti-India BBC programming”.

He said the BBC had “unleashed the most venomous attack on our country”.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Tuesday that the US government was aware of a “search of the BBC’s offices in Delhi by Indian tax authorities” but had turned to Indian authorities for any details.

“Broadly … we support the importance of a free press around the world,” Price added. “We continue to emphasize the importance of freedom of speech and freedom of religion or belief as human rights that contribute to the strengthening of democracy around the world.”

U statementThe Editors Guild of India, a press freedom group, called the tax authorities’ “survey” a “continuation of a trend of using government agencies to intimidate and harass press organizations critical of government policies or the ruling establishment.” .”

Last week, India’s Supreme Court rejected a petition by a right-wing political group to ban the BBC outright in the country over a Modi documentary. The judges said the motion was “wholly misguided and without merit.”

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