India’s Income Tax Department conducted raids at 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.
However, India’s information and broadcasting minister, denied that the government was involved.
“Agencies do their own work, we don’t interfere in their functioning,” Anurag Thakur 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.”
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 India’s press freedom ranking fell to 142, putting the country on par with Myanmar and Mexico.