NEW DELHI — India’s tax officials searched BBC offices in India for a second straight day on Wednesday questioning staff about the organization’s business operations in the country, some staff members said.
BBC management told editorial and other staff members to work from home after they were able to leave the office on Tuesday night, said staff who spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to media.
The searches came weeks after the BBC aired a documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the UK.
There was no overnight break in the search and investigators scanned the desktops of some employees who were earlier told not to use their phones and keep them aside, the staff members said.
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 organization.
Rights groups and opposition politicians denounced the move by India’s Income Tax Department as an attempt to intimidate the media.
Britain’s publicly funded national broadcaster said it was cooperating fully with authorities and hoped “to have this situation resolved as soon as possible.” Late in the evening, the BBC said officials were still at the two offices.
“Many staff have now left the building but some have been asked to remain and are continuing to cooperate with the ongoing inquiries,” it said, adding: “Our output and journalism continue as normal.”
While there has been no British government statement so far, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Tuesday: “We are aware of the search of the BBC offices in Delhi by Indian tax authorities.”
“We support the importance of a free press around the world. We continue to highlight the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief as human rights that contribute to strengthening democracies around the world. It has strengthened this democracy here in this country. It has strengthened India’s democracy,” Price told reporters in Washington.
India’s News Broadcasters and Digital Association criticized the income tax “surveys” at the BBC offices.
While the association “maintains that no institution is above the law, it condemns any attempt to muzzle and intimidate the media and interfere with the free functioning of journalists and media organizations,” it said in a statement. (AP)
February 16, 2023
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