An entrance of the Hindi-language Dainik Bhaskar daily newspaper which was raided by Indian tax authorities, is pictured in Bhopal on July 22, 2021. (AFP/Gagan Nayar)

Indian tax officials raid offices of Dainik Bhaskar media group, Bharat Samachar channel

Washington, D.C., July 22, 2021 — Indian authorities should immediately stop occupying the offices of the media group Dainik Bhaskar and the home of its managing director, and cease harassing Dainik Bhaskar, the news channel Bharat Samachar, and the outlets’ staff, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Today, over 100 federal income tax officials raided the headquarters of the privately owned media group Dainik Bhaskar, in Bhopal city in the state of Madhya Pradesh, and 30 of its regional offices in the capital New Delhi and the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Maharashtra on allegations of tax evasion, according to news reports and a statement by Dainik Bhaskar, the media group’s Hindi-language newspaper. According to the statement, the officials confiscated mobile devices of employees present in the offices. Om Gaur, national editor of Dainik Bhaskar in Bhopal, confirmed the raids to CPJ via phone.

Gaur told CPJ that as of this evening, officials continued to occupy the media group’s offices and the home of the media group’s managing director, Sudhir Agarwal, also in Bhopal. Daily newspaper The Hindu also reported on the raid of Agarwal’s home.

Also today, income tax officials raided the office of the privately owned broadcast news channel Bharat Samachar in the state of Uttar Pradesh and the homes of its editor, Brajesh Misra, and its head of reporting in the state, Virendra Singh, according to news reports and the news channel’s reporting in a video on Twitter. CPJ contacted Misra and Singh via messaging app but did not receive any response.

CPJ was unable to determine whether tax officials have left Bharat Samachar’s office or the homes of its journalists.

“The use of tax raids against media properties like Dainik Bhaskar and Bharat Samachar is a vile tactic transparently aimed at intimidating news outlets that report critically on India’s government, and it needs to stop, now,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “India must revive its long tradition of press freedom, drop these investigations, and allow journalists to report freely on matters of public interest.”

Dainik Bhaskar’s statement claimed that the raids were retaliation for its coverage of the government’s alleged mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement posted to Twitter, Bharat Samachar indicated that the channel was not intimidated by the raids and would “continue speaking the truth.”

CPJ emailed the Income Tax Department for comment, but did not receive any response.

In June, income tax officials visited the offices of the news website Newsclick in New Delhi, questioned two of its editors for five hours each in relation to a money laundering investigation, and ordered the outlet to submit a number of additional tax documents, as CPJ documented at the time.