The Bharatiya Janata Party on Sunday demanded “exemplary punishment” for Special Police Officer Deepak Khajuria, who was arrested for allegedly kidnapping, raping and killing an eight-year-old girl in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district in January.

The saffron party also distanced itself from the Hindu Ekta Manch, which had held a rally in Kathua last week demanding the release of Khajuria, the Greater Kashmir reported. “This is a heinous crime...we too want culprits [to] be given exemplary punishment,” Bharatiya Janata Party General Secretary (Organisation) Ashok Koul said. “Case must be investigated thoroughly.”

Terming the Hindu Ekta Manch’s protests as their own decision, Koul said, “BJP is not supporting them. Our stand is clear that [the] accused should be punished and law should take its own course.”

The Hindu Ekta Manch conducted the rally in Kathua with the Indian tricolour, and warned of an agitation if the police did not let the accused go. “Khajuria should be released and those whom the Crime Branch has called for questioning should not be harassed,” unidentified members of the group had said. “We are against the murder of the minor girl but we don’t want our men to be framed.”

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had said she was “appalled” and “horrified” by the protests.