Nineteen cricket fans arrested in India for celebrating Pakistan’s win against India in the Champions Trophy “should be released immediately”, according to Amnesty International.
On Monday police in Madhya Pradesh arrested 15 people in Burhanpur for allegedly committing “sedition” by shouting “pro-Pakistan” and “anti-India” slogans. Four more cricket fans were arrested in Karnataka allegedly for celebrating Pakistan’s 180-run win.
The 19 men were accused of spreading “communal disharmony” which is considered sedition and is punishable by life imprisonment.
“These arrests are patently absurd, and the 19 men should be released immediately,” said Amnesty International’s India programme director, Asmita Basu. “Even if the arrested men had supported Pakistan, as the police claim, that is not a crime. Supporting a sporting team is a matter of individual choice, and arresting someone for cheering a rival team clearly violates their right to freedom of expression.”
According to Amnesty International, the initial report by Madhya Pradesh police states: “[The accused] chanted ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ in support of the Pakistan cricket team … They celebrated Pakistan’s win by bursting crackers and distributing sweets … Their actions suggested that they were trying to conspire against the Indian government by supporting Pakistan in the cricket match … Because of them, there is an atmosphere of unrest in the village.”
India Today, however, reported that police were not concerned by which team the men supported but by the pro-Pakistan and anti-India slogans. But the local police chief, Raja Ram Parihar, told the AFP news agency the men were arrested after “a complaint from a local Hindu man who accused them of celebrating after India lost the match”.
Indian law defines sedition as any act or attempt “to bring into hatred or contempt, or … excite disaffection towards the government.”
Asmita Basu said: “These cases show just why the sedition law should be immediately repealed. This law is excessively broad and vague and makes it easy to silence people who are legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression. Nobody should have to go to prison merely because they are accused of causing offense. The sedition law has no place in a rights-respecting society, let alone one that has a proud tradition of pluralism and debate.”
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