Union minister Jayant Sinha triggered a controversy on Friday by garlanding eight men convicted of attacking and lynching cattle trader Alimuddin Ansari in Ramgarh area of Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand on June 27, 2017. A year after the incident, on June 29, the Jharkhand High Court had suspended the convicts’ life sentences, News18 reported.

After walking out on bail, the convicts went straight to Sinha’s residence in Ranchi, where he welcomed and garlanded them. The convicts were led by local Bharatiya Janata Party leader Amardeep Yadav.

On Saturday, Sinha claimed he was only honouring the due process of law. “Unfortunately, irresponsible statements are being made about my actions when all that I am doing is honoring due process of law,” the Union minister said on Twitter. “Those that are innocent will be spared and guilty will be appropriately punished. I have full faith in our judiciary and rule of law.”

Sinha said in the Ramgarh lynching case, the Ranchi High Court had suspended the sentence against the accused and released them on bail. “I have repeatedly expressed my misgivings about the fast-track court judgement sentencing each accused to life imprisonment. I am pleased that the Hon’ble High Court will hear the matter as a statutory court of appeal to test the correctness of the fast-track court order,” the minister of state for Civil Aviation said.

He said he condemned all acts of violence and rejected any type of vigilantism. The rule of law is supreme in our constitutional democracy, he added. “Any unlawful acts, particularly those that violate the rights of any citizen, should be punished with the full force of the law,” he said.

Former Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren said Sinha’s action was “absolutely unbecoming of a Union minister”.

Jharkhand Congress chief Ajoy Kumar accused the BJP of fanning communal sentiments, as both the Centre and the Raghubar Das government in the state had failed to deliver on promises. “Any kind of support to such elements is deplorable. This is the true colour of the BJP,” he said. “They just want to win elections, and for that their leaders can cross any limit.”

But BJP leader Amardeep Yadav claimed Sinha had welcomed them because he always believed they were innocent. “That’s why he provided legal and monetary assistance to them in his personal capacity,” Yadav said. “There is nothing wrong in supporting innocent people.” Sinha had earlier called for a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the incident.