India’s Raid of BBC Offices Seen as Attack on Democracy

After Indian tax authorities concluded what they called “surveys” of the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai last week, journalists and activists are wondering whether it is still possible to speak out in India and call things for what they are.

No Signal TVIndian tax authorities raided BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai. (Photo: Marco Verch Professional Photographer, Flickr, License)The three-day-long raid of the offices came after the British Broadcasting Corporation aired an investigative documentary about the 2002 riots that left more than thousand Muslims dead. The film portrayed Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the one responsible for not stopping the carnage.

Although the documentary was aired only in the U.K., many saw the raid as the Indian government’s act of revenge and a continuation of efforts to silence critics and restrict freedom of speech in general.

“Is it too risky to say that the government seems to be turning off the switches of India’s democratic institutions?” the Indian Express asked in a commentary on Monday, pointing out the silence of the country’s officials regarding the raid as well as people’s reluctance to give up on their appetite to discuss things openly.

“Free, vigorous debate is part of India’s essence, and the death of debate will turn India into a fossil,” the article said.

Other media addressed the government’s use of the word “survey” for something that involved seizing laptops and phones.

“Whatever official narrative is given, there's no doubt that this latest episode will be seen as a dangerous attack on press freedom and a slide into authoritarianism,” The Daily Star wrote.

Last week’s raid was just the latest in a string of controversial operations conducted by government agencies against critics.

"Overbroad powers of the Income Tax Department are repeatedly being weaponized to silence dissent," said Amnesty International, which itself had to halt its operation in India after another agency froze its bank accounts. Tax officials have also visited Oxfam and several other think tanks.

The Press Club of India, a press freedom group, said in a statement that the raids on the BBC offices “will damage the reputation and image of India as the world’s largest democracy.”

The Editors Guild of India - a non-profit group promoting press freedom in the country - said it was "deeply concerned" about the raids.

The BBC said it will continue to cooperate with authorities and hopes the issue will be resolved soon but remained determined to “continue to report without fear or favor”.