Indian tax authorities raid media outlets Bharat Samachar and Dainik Bhaskar

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Indian tax authorities have raided the offices of two prominent media outlets that have been critical of the government’s response to coronavirus.

Officials said they are investigating tax evasion at TV channel Bharat Samachar and newspaper Dainik Bhaskar.

The homes of some employees have also been raided, and many have had their mobile phones seized.

Several media rights groups and opposition lawmakers say the move is an intentional attack on press freedom.

But Anurag Thakur, India’s information and broadcasting minister, denied that the government was involved.

“Agencies do their own work, we don’t interfere in their functioning,” he said.

Dainik Bhaskar, published in Hindi, is one of India’s most widely read daily newspapers.

Throughout the country’s outbreak, the paper and Bharat Samachar have exposed a shortfalls in the government’s response to the pandemic, including shortages of oxygen and hospital beds.

They have also reported on the bodies of suspected coronavirus victims which have been floating in the river Ganges.

In April, Dainik Bhaskar published the phone number of Jitu Vaghani – the Gujarat state president of India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Most recently it reported on the use of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware against several Indian journalists.

In response to the raids, both media outlets have accused the government of deliberately targeting them for their coverage.

“The raid is the outcome of our aggressive reporting,” said Om Gaur, Dainik Bhaskar’s national editor, speaking to the Washington Post. “Unlike some other media, we reported how people were dying for lack of oxygen and hospital beds.”

President Narendra Modi

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In a post on Twitter, Bharat Samachar said: “The more you throttle us, the louder we will speak the truth.”

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, several media outlets have been investigated by the government for financial impropriety, raising fears about press freedom in the world’s largest democracy.

In 2017 tax authorities raided the offices of broadcaster NDTV, and the homes of its founders, the Roy family.

Reporters Without Borders, an advocacy group for journalists, has placed India at 142nd place in its press freedom rankings – putting the country on par with Myanmar and Mexico.

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