A top human rights group says India must immediately end a “vicious” crackdown on Muslims who took to the streets to protest against the ruling party official’s remarks about Prophet Muhammad and his wife Aisha.
Authorities were “selectively and viciously cracking down on Muslims who dare to speak up … against the discrimination faced by them,” Amnesty International’s Aakar Patel said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Cracking down on protesters with excessive use of force, arbitrary detention and punitive house demolitions … is in complete violation of India’s commitments under international human rights law.”
Thousands of Muslims have taken to the streets across India to protest against anti-Islamic comments made by two members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Two Muslim teenagers were killed and hundreds of others arrested last week in nationwide protests over the comments, which embroiled India in a diplomatic furore and caused widespread outrage in the Muslim world.
Amnesty demanded an “immediate and unconditional release” of the jailed protesters.
‘Collective extrajudicial punishment’
Also on Tuesday, in a letter to the chief justice of India’s Supreme Court, six prominent former judges and six senior lawyers said the government in Uttar Pradesh state had acted illegally by demolishing the house of a Muslim activist following the protests.
State chief minister Yogi Adityanath, a saffron-robed BJP hardliner, ordered the weekend demolition of any illegal buildings of people accused of involvement in violence last week, including the home of activist Mohammad Javed on Sunday.
Adityanath, one of India’s most prominent Hindu nationalist politicians, is known for his sectarian rhetoric against India’s 200-million strong Muslim minority. He has repeatedly called on authorities to demolish the homes of people accused of crimes, an exhortation critics say violates constitutional and human rights laws that ban collective punishment.
The former judges and lawyers urged the Supreme Court to take action to “arrest the deteriorating law and order situation” in Uttar Pradesh.
“The coordinated manner in which the police and development authorities have acted lead to the clear conclusion that demolitions are a form of collective extrajudicial punishment, attributable to a state policy which is illegal,” they wrote.
Local officials said the demolition was justified as parts of the house had been illegally constructed and that Javed had not appeared for hearings on the issue in May. Uttar Pradesh police said Javed was also involved in the violence during one of the recent protests.
But Javed’s 24-year-old daughter Afreen Fatima, also a prominent activist, told Al Jazeera the family had not participated in the Friday protests in the city. She also rejected the city administration’s allegations that their house was illegally constructed.
“We had been paying our house taxes for around 20 years and not once did we receive any intimation by any development authorities of Allahabad that our house is illegal. Why were they even taking our taxes if it was an illegal house?” she told Al Jazeera TV.
K K Roy, Javed’s lawyer, told Al Jazeera the building was owned by Javed’s wife and not him.
“Under the Muslim Personal Law Property Act, the husband cannot have a share in the property of his wife. Since Javed has no right over the property as per law, the notice in his name is illegal. We have challenged the notice and sought a penalty of at least 10 crore rupees [$1.3m],” he said.
Amnesty’s Patel said the arrests and demolitions were “part of an alarming escalation of the states’ measures targeting Muslims”.
Meanwhile, Muslims on Tuesday marched in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata in a second week of protests over anti-Islam remarks by the BJP officials.
The protests have spread to several northern and eastern cities, with some crowds burning effigies of Nupur Sharma – the BJP spokeswoman whose comments during a TV debate show set off the furore.
The party suspended Sharma and expelled another official in New Delhi over the comments, and said it condemned any insult towards any religion. But critics say religious polarisation has deepened in India since Modi came to power in 2014.
Modi has so far not commented on the prophet remarks controversy.
Nearly 20 Muslim-majority countries including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Iran – all important trade partners for India – have lodged diplomatic protests against the anti-Islam remarks and demanded an apology.
Huge protests were also held in India’s neighbouring countries, with police estimating more than 100,000 people mobilised across Bangladesh after the Friday congregational prayers.
Another 5,000 people took to the streets in the Pakistani city of Lahore, demanding that their government take stronger action against India over the comments.