Police yesterday arrested a university student who has been involved in organising protests against a contentious citizenship law after he made comments that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party said were seditious.
Sharjeel Imam shot to national prominence when he helped to organise a mass sit-in in New Delhi, one of many rallies staged over more than a month against the Citizenship Amendment Act that the protesters say discriminates against Muslims.
The 31-year-old history student further angered nationalists in the BJP with what they said was a seditious call for the northeastern state of Assam to be “cut” from the rest of the country.
Last week, Sambit Patra, a BJP spokesman, described Imam’s comment as a call for “open war”.
The BJP has sought to depict him as a dangerous rebel in national media and in party rallies ahead of a state election in New Delhi on February 8.
Speaking shortly before he was arrested in Bihar, Imam said he had only called for railway and road links to Assam to be disrupted as part of the ongoing campaign of protests against the citizenship law.
Imam also said the BJP was trying to vilify him in order to discredit the largely leaderless protest movement ahead of the Delhi state election.
“They want to discredit educated Muslims who speak up,” said Imam, a student at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, known for its leftist activism and opposition to the BJP government.
Police officer Rajesh Deo said Imam had been found after a three-day search in Bihar and would be moved to Delhi to face charges of sedition.
In a statement, Imam’s lawyers said he was fully co-operating with the investigation.
On Monday, the police arrested some of his acquaintances and relatives from Bihar.
Imam had disappeared from the police radar on January 25 evening. He was last seen at a meeting in Phulwari Sharif in Bihar.
The citizenship law aims to fast-track Indian citizenship for non-Muslim minorities from three neighbouring countries.
Many Indians say the law is discriminatory against the country’s large Muslim minority and violates the country’s secular constitution.
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