BBC gets India court summons in defamation case over Modi film

Summons come months after tax officials inspected BBC’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai that followed the ban on the documentary.

People watch the BBC documentary on a screen installed at the Marine Drive in Kochi
People watch the BBC documentary, India: The Modi Question, on a screen installed at the Marine Drive in Kochi [File: Arun Chandrabos/AFP]

An Indian court has issued a summons to the BBC in a defamation case over its documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to reports in the Indian media.

The Delhi High Court on Monday issued the summons to the British broadcaster for its documentary film that questioned Modi’s leadership during the 2002 Gujarat riots in which at least 1,000 people were killed, most of them Muslims.

Activists put the death toll at more than twice that number.

Modi was the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014, the year he won the national elections and became the prime minister.

The defamation suit, filed by a non-profit based in Gujarat, states the documentary – India: The Modi Question – that aired earlier this year cast a slur on India’s reputation and that of its judiciary and the prime minister.

The suit was filed on the basis that the documentary “maliciously defamed India”, said Siddharth Sharma, an advocate for the non-profit, Justice on Trial.

Sharma said the court issued a summons to the BBC with the next hearing set for September 23.

A BBC spokesperson said: “We are aware of the court proceedings. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

The summons came months after Indian tax officials inspected the BBC’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai in February and the financial crime agency opened an investigation into the broadcaster in April for alleged violations of foreign exchange rules.

The tax authority said it found evidence of undisclosed income in records of an “international media company” without naming the BBC. A government adviser said the inspection was not “vindictive”.

Modi has denied accusations that he did not do enough to stop the riots and a Supreme Court-ordered investigation found no evidence to prosecute him.

A petition seeking a new investigation was dismissed by the Supreme Court last year.

The government called the documentary, which was banned in India, a biased “propaganda piece” and blocked sharing of any clips from it on social media.

The BBC has previously said it “does not have an agenda” and has stood by its reporting for the documentary.

Source: Reuters