The Madhya Pradesh Police on Wednesday withdrew the sedition charges filed against 15 Muslims for allegedly shouting pro-Pakistan slogans and bursting crackers after Pakistan’s victory over India in the ICC Champions Trophy final on June 18, The Indian Express reported. The 15 men have now been charged under Section 153-A of the Indian Penal Code for “disturbing communal harmony”.

“It’s difficult to prove the sedition charge,” said Burhanpur Superintendent of Police RR Parihar. “Moreover, none of them has a criminal background. After initial investigation, we found Section 153-A is more appropriate than Section 124-A.”

However, the charge of conspiracy (Section 120-B) will remain. The accused have been sent to Khandwa jail.

The police dropped the sedition charges after the men’s families approached the president, the national and state human rights commissions, as well as the national and state minority commissions. The families had said that their village had never witnessed any communal incidents before.

The father of one of the accused said the youngsters were innocent, and that some miscreants may have burst crackers. Earlier, when the families visited the Burhanpur court premises, they were cornered by some activists shouting “Hindustan zindabad”.

The incident took place on Monday in Mohad village of the communally-sensitive Burhapur district, which is also the home district of state Bharatiya Janata Party chief Nandkumar Singh Chauhan. The police initiated action after a villager filed a complaint in the matter, Inspector of Shahpur police station Sanjay Pathak had said on Monday.

Amnesty India condemns arrests

Meanwhile, Amnesty International India has called for the immediate release of the accused. In a statement on Wednesday, it condemned the arrests, describing them as “another worrying sign of the erosion of freedom of expression in India”.

“These arrests are patently absurd, and the 19 men should be released immediately,” said Amnesty International India Programmes Director Asmita Basu, referring to the 15 men arrested in Madhya Pradesh and four others in Karnataka’s Kodagu district.

Amnesty also called for the sedition law to be repealed.