NEW DELHI — Officials from India’s Department of Income Tax searched the BBC’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai on Tuesday, weeks after it aired a controversial documentary about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the British broadcaster said.

Human rights groups and opposition politicians denounced the move as an intimidation tactic aimed at crushing the media. Indian tax authorities declined to comment.

The search continues with «a trend of using government agencies to intimidate and harass press organizations that are critical of government policies or the ruling establishment,» the Publishers Union of India said in a statement.

The investigation is «undemocratic» and «reeks of despair and shows that the Modi government is afraid of criticism,» KC Venugopal, secretary general of the opposition Congress Party, tweeted. «We condemn these intimidation tactics in the strongest terms.»

Gaurav Bhatia, a spokesman for Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party, said the BBC should have nothing to fear if it follows Indian law. But he added that the BBC’s history is «tainted» and «filled with hate» towards India and called the station corrupt, without offering details.

Last month, the BBC broadcast a documentary in the UK titled «India: The Modi Question» that examined Modi’s role during the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the western state of Gujarat, where he was prime minister at the time. More than 1,000 people died in the violence.

Modi has denied allegations that authorities under his supervision allowed and even encouraged bloodshed, and the Supreme Court said it found no evidence to prosecute him. Last year, the court dismissed a petition filed by a Muslim victim challenging Modi’s exoneration.

The second part of the two-part documentary examined «the record of Narendra Modi’s government following his re-election in 2019,» according to the program’s description on the BBC website.

The program drew an immediate reaction from the government, which invoked emergency powers under its information technology laws to block it. Local authorities were quick to stop screenings organized at several Indian universities, and social media platforms including Twitter and YouTube complied with government requests to remove links to the documentary.

Critics and political opponents denounced the ban as an assault on press freedom in India.

The BBC said in a statement at the time that the documentary was «rigorously researched» and involved a wide range of voices and opinions.

“We offered the Indian government the right to respond to the issues raised in the series; refused to respond,» the statement said.

India’s Foreign Ministry called the documentary a «propaganda piece designed to push a particularly discredited narrative» that lacked objectivity.

Many lawmakers from Modi’s party criticized the program as an attack on India’s sovereignty. Last week, right-wing Hindu nationalists petitioned the Supreme Court for a full ban on the BBC. The court dismissed his claim, calling it «absolutely without merit.»

Human Rights Watch previously said the ban on the documentary reflects a broader crackdown on minorities under the Modi government, which the rights group says has frequently invoked draconian laws to muzzle critics. In recent years, India’s minority Muslims have fallen victim to violence from Hindu nationalists emboldened by a prime minister who has said little about such attacks since he was first elected in 2014.

Press freedom in India has been in steady decline in recent years. The country fell eight places, to 150 out of 180 countries, in the 2022 Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders. Media watchdog groups also accuse the Modi government of silencing criticism on social media under a sweeping internet law that puts digital platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, under direct government supervision.

Some media outlets critical of the government have been the target of tax raids.

Authorities searched the offices of the left-leaning website NewsClick and the independent media portal Newslaundry on the same day in 2021. Tax officials also accused the newspaper Dainik Bhaskar of tax evasion in 2021 after it published reports of mass funeral pyres and floating corpses questioning the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2017, the government’s investigative office said it was investigating cases of loan defaults when it raided the offices of New Delhi Television, known for its liberal bias.