Human rights activist Bela Bhatia on Saturday said that eight Adivasi protestors were arrested by the Chhattisgarh Police in Sukma district and being “framed in a false case”, the Hindustan Times reported.

Earlier in the day, the Sukma Police alleged that those arrested are Maoists and six of them carried a reward of Rs 17 lakh. The joint squad of Commando Battalion for Resolute Action, an elite unit of the Central Reserve Police Force, and the district police arrested the people from a forest near Morpalli village on Thursday during an “area domination operation”.

The security forces began the operation November 2. The police claimed they have recovered 35 detonators, six gelatin rods, two improvised explosive devices, batteries and wires from the accused.

At a press conference, Bhatia said they were arrested while returning from a protest against the police camp in Silger village.

The Adivasis have feared police violence since May, when officers had opened fire on the people opposing the security camps in Silger village. Three people were killed in the firing. The police had claimed they fired in response to gunshots by the Maoists, but the protestors have denied the presence of any armed guerillas in their midst.

On Saturday, Bhatia said that the Adivasi protestors were intercepted by 150 police officers in Morpalli village and taken to Chintalnar Police Station as they were returning from the protest.

“Out of 55, eight have been booked under the Arms and Explosives Act while the rest of them were released,” she said. “Of the released 47, one woman is still missing and hasn’t returned to her family.”

Bhatia added that the eight arrested people were not presented before the magistrate on Friday, which is a violation of the law. She said they should be released immediately.

“On November 5, three minors were also released,” Bhatia said, according to The Indian Express. “Eight remaining men were shown to be Maoists and arrested in what seems to be a fake case.”

The district police denied the allegations, claiming that the Adivasis were rescued from those arrested, the Hindustan Times reported.

“The eight arrested Maoists were forcibly taking these villagers to various meetings and protests,” said Sukam Superintendent of Police Sunil Sharma. “The arrested Maoists were found with explosives and were booked under the arms and explosives act.”

He added: “When the security forces intercepted them the Maoists started running and that’s when the CoBRA apprehended them.”