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Rights groups to screen BBC film on Modi ahead of White House visit

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have scheduled a private screening in Washington two days before the Indian prime minister’s state visit.

Two human rights groups have invited policymakers, journalists and analysts to a screening in Washington of a BBC documentary on Narendra Modi that questions the Indian prime minister’s leadership during the 2002 Gujarat riots ahead of his state visit to the White House.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have scheduled private screenings for June 20, two days before Modi’s official state visit, hosted by US President Joe Biden.

In announcing the screening on Monday, Human Rights Watch said it wanted to serve as a reminder that the documentary has been banned in India.

The two-part documentary, India: The Modi Question, focuses on Modi’s leadership as chief minister of the western state of Gujarat during riots in 2002 that killed at least 1,000 people, most of them Muslims. Workers put up more than double that toll.

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

The Indian government reacted angrily to the documentary released in January, calling it a “propaganda piece” and blocking the sharing of any clips from it on social media.

The White House last month defended Modi’s planned state visit when asked about human rights concerns in India. Press secretary Karin Jean-Pierre said Biden believes “this is an important relationship that we need to continue and build on as it relates to human rights”.

Advocacy groups have expressed concern over what they see as a deterioration of the human rights situation in India in recent years under Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), particularly when it comes to the treatment of minorities, dissidents and journalists.

The government denies the allegations and says it works for the betterment of all groups.

Tax officials visited the BBC’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai in February, and the Financial Crimes Commission opened an investigation into the broadcaster in April over alleged violations of foreign exchange rules. A government adviser said the visit was not “retaliatory”.

The BBC had earlier said it stood by its reporting for the documentary, which had not aired in India and had “no agenda”.

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