India raids media outlets that are critical of the government.
Indian tax authorities searched a renowned newspaper and a television channel on Thursday, accusing them of intimidation after they were critical of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The raids on the Hindi-language daily Dainik Bhaskar and the Bharat Samachar channel elicited no formal response from authorities, but local media described unnamed tax officials as stating they had “conclusive evidence of fraud.”
Bhaskar, which has a readership of millions, published a series of reports in April and May about the pandemic’s damage and criticized the government’s handling of the issue.
In response to the raids, the newspaper claimed on its website on Thursday that it had spent the previous six months trying to “put the genuine situation in front of the country.”
“Whether it was (dumping) dead bodies in the Ganges or… concealing deaths caused by corona, Bhaskar demonstrated brave journalism,” it stated.
Families in India’s north and east threw over the bodies of their loved ones to the river or buried them in shallow graves along its banks during the Covid-19 outbreak, owing to a lack of funds to pay for funeral pyres.
Om Gaur, the editor of the daily, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times last month, claiming that the bodies in the Ganges were symbolic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration’s “failures and deceptions.”
The raids, according to Brijesh Mishra, editor in chief of Bharat Samachar, constituted harassment.
“These raids do not frighten us… On their website, he was cited as declaring in Hindi, “We stand for the truth and the 240 million people of Uttar Pradesh.”
Modi’s administration has long been accused of aiming to restrict critical reporting in the world’s largest democracy, a charge it disputes.
India is ranked 142nd out of 180 nations in Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index for 2021.
The raids, according to Ashok Gehlot, the chief minister of Rajasthan in northern India, were a brazen attempt to restrict the media.
On Twitter, Gehlot, a member of the opposition Congress party, tweeted, “The Modi government cannot tolerate even an iota of its criticism.”
The raids, according to New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, were “an attempt to terrify the media.”
So far, India has reported 31 million coronavirus infections and over 400,000 fatalities, but scientists believe the true numbers are significantly higher.