Various groups, including separatist leaders, held protest rallies in Srinagar on Thursday, demanding punishment for those guilty of raping and killing an eight-year-old girl in Kathua district in January.

Students, trade union members, academics and lawyers participated in the demonstrations at Lal Chowk, with some demanding death penalty for the accused, the Hindustan Times reported. In protests at Press Enclave, people shouted slogans against the Hindu Ekta Manch and condemned its support for the accused, according to Rising Kashmir.

The Hindu Ekta Manch had held protests in Kathua on February 16, demanding the release of police officer Deepak Khajuria, who is accused of kidnapping, raping and killing the girl in Kathua in January.

“It pains us that some people are supporting murderers and rapists,” PTI quoted trade union leader Shakeel Qalander as saying. “Is humanity dead? How can they support rapists and murderers? We want the murderers to be given exemplary punishment. They should be hanged.”

Separatist leaders, protesting under the banner of Joint Resistance Leadership in the Abi Guzar locality of the city, said the Hindu Ekta Manch’s demonstrations were “communalisation and politicisation” of a minor’s rape and murder. They said it was “deplorable, disgusting and against all ethics”.

Addressing a rally, separatist leader Yasin Malik asked the state government to protect Muslims in Jammu, and demanded capital punishment for the accused, the Greater Kashmir reported. “It has never been seen that educated people and politicians come out, waving the tricolour, in support of the rape and murder accused,” Malik said.

However, the police detained some separatist leaders before they were due to address a press conference.