Congress on case against BBC India: "Orwellian state... freedom of press completely clamped"

BBC "continue to cooperate with the authorities" in hope of early resolution to Enforcement Directorate case alleging FDI violations

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The Congress on Thursday slammed the Centre after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) registered a case against news broadcaster BBC India, alleging that the government is determined to impose a "dictatorial government" where there is "tyranny of the Executive".

The ED has registered a case against BBC India with allegations of foreign exchange violations under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), official sources said on Thursday, two months after the Income Tax Department surveyed its office premises.

A deputy managing editor of the news company has deposed before the agency.

The ED has called for documents and the recording of statements from some company executives under the provisions of the FEMA, officials said. The probe is apparently looking at purported foreign direct investment (FDI) violations by the company.

Asked about the development at a press conference at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) headquarters, spokesperson Anshul Avijit said, "We know the atmosphere that is being created by the Orwellian sort of state here where the freedom of expression and press has completely been clamped down [on]."

"It is not new. It has been happening. There are changes in laws, but far from that [sic] there are threats and intimidation. So whoever dares criticise this government is actually thrown in jail," Avijit said.

He also spoke about an incident where Delhi University students were suspended for screening a recent BBC documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots.

"This is the kind of state we live in. I really fear [for] the freedom of the press as well. The new [income tax] laws that have come out, they have come under much criticism, but nothing deters this government.

"They are determined to impose a dictatorial government in which the Executive rules, so you have the tyranny of the Executive," the Congress leader said.

On February 14 this year, the IT Department commenced survey operations at the London-based broadcaster's offices in Delhi and Mumbai, as part of an investigation into alleged tax evasions. The survey went on for three days.

The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), the administrative body for the IT Department, had then said that the income and profits shown by various BBC group entities were "not commensurate" with the scale of their operations in India and that they had failed to pay certain remittances due from its foreign entities.

The BBC, after the survey, had said they will "continue to cooperate with the authorities and hope matters are resolved as soon as possible".

The action had led to a sharp political debate with the ruling BJP accusing the BBC of "venomous reporting", while the Opposition questioned the timing—mere weeks after the broadcaster aired a two-part documentary titled 'India: The Modi Question'. 

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