Over a hundred intellectuals in China have written an open letter to the government condemning its plan to evict thousands of migrant workers from Beijing, The Guardian reported on Monday. In the letter that is being circulated on social media, they have called the plan “ruthless” and a “serious trampling of human rights”.

The Chinese government had announced the 40-day eviction campaign after a house fire in southern Beijing on November 18 killed 19 people, 17 of who were migrant workers. The campaign to remove illegal structures will involve a “blanket search and investigation campaign that will cover every single village and household”, local media reported.

Many residents were allegedly given just minutes to pack their belongings, before the police sealed buildings. Water and electricity connections were also cut off in some houses. Currently, several evicted residents are out in the open in the freezing Beijing winter.

“Any civilised and law-abiding society cannot tolerate this, and we must clearly condemn and oppose these actions,” the letter read. It was signed by professors, researchers, poets and artists, and was addressed to the Chinese leadership. They criticised the lack of due process and pace at which the campaign was picking up.

Officials, however, denied they were targeting migrant workers, and said it was focused on safety. “It is irresponsible and groundless to say the campaign is to evict the ‘low-end population’,” an official from the Beijing Administration of Work Safety told the local media.