Human rights and Dalit activists on Sunday criticised the arrest of Bhim Army chief Chandra Shekhar Azad and 21 others by the Jaipur Police on July 1, The Indian Express reported.

On Friday night, Azad was arrested from a hotel in Jaipur to reportedly prevent him from participating in a protest called by the Covid Health Assistants. Dalit activist Dharmendra Kumar said the protestors have been demanding that their services be regularised. Azad had travelled to Jaipur to support them.

“They were planning to support CHA on July 2,” Kumar told The Indian Express. “The Jaipur Police was also told that if the government does not want the protest to be held now, it can be postponed. Alternatively, a memorandum can be submitted to a government official. However, the police arrived around 12.30 am and picked up Azad and others.”

The Rajasthan wing of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, a human rights organisation, on Sunday questioned why the police had chosen to arrest them in the middle of the night.

“The other 21 accused, all Dalits who were with Azad in the hotel, were also dragged out from their rooms,” the People’s Union for Civil Liberties said in a statement.

All the 22 persons were taken into custody under the Criminal Code Procedure Section 151 (arrest to prevent the commission of cognisable offences), the organisation added.

It described the arrest as a “mockery of the freedom of speech and expression”, reported The Indian Express.

“It is worth repeating that the police under the said section have the power to arrest on ‘knowing of the design to commit any cognisable offence’ but of which there was no evidence, instead they were in a dialogue with the police,” the People’s Union for Civil Liberties said. “It is clear that the police are exercising their unbridled power of preventive detention and denying Azad his constitutional right to protest.”

The organisation also alleged that the 22 individuals were sent to judicial custody without following due process.

“The use of this executive power has no judicial safeguards in Jaipur, with the bail lying entirely within the police apparatus,” it added. “The Executive Magistrate arbitrarily sent Azad to judicial custody without providing the accused any opportunity to be heard and bail application to be filed.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Commissioner of Jaipur Police (South) Mridul Kachawa said that it was a “preventive arrest”, reported The Indian Express.

Currently, restrictions on gathering of four or more persons have been imposed in all districts of Rajasthan for a month under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The curfew was announced after Kanhaiya Lal, a tailor in Udaipur, was killed on June 28.

A video showed two men claiming responsibility for the crime as they brandish the cleavers used in the murder. They claimed they had killed Lal for supporting the disparaging comments about Prophet Muhammad made by former Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Nupur Sharma during a debate on Times Now television channel in May.

However, the curfew was relaxed on June 30 for various Hindutva organisations that had planned a rally to protest Lal’s murder in Udaipur.

The “Sarv Hindu Samaj” march was held from the city’s Town Hall to the collectorate office. Additional Director General of Police Dinesh MN had said the restrictions were lifted only on the route of the rally.