Human rights organisation Amnesty International India on Thursday criticised the crackdown on people protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Various state government had either arrested protestors or imposed prohibitory orders to stop demonstrations, Amnesty pointed out.

Earlier in the day, the police imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure – which bans a gathering of more than four people – in Delhi’s Red Fort, and across Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. Historian Ramchandra Guha, activists Yogendra Yadav and Harsh Mander were among hundreds of protestors detained.

Amnesty India’s Executive Director Avinash Kumar said the Citizenship Act was a “bigoted law” that legitimises discrimination on the basis of religion. “The people of the country have the right to protest against this law peacefully and express their views,” he added. “The right to freedom of peaceful assembly does not only facilitate freedom of expression, but also allows public debate. However, rather than respecting, protecting and promoting this right, the Central government in Delhi and various state governments are clamping down on protestors by using repressive laws.”

The organisation cited international law and underlined that peaceful assembly was a right and not a privilege.

“Authorities across India must understand that a peaceful protest is a legitimate use of public space,” Kumar said. “Denying permission for peaceful protests shows an apparent disdain for the right to freedom of expression which is both misguided and dangerous.”

He reminded authorities that courts had ruled that expression can be restricted on grounds of public order only when there is a possibility of imminent violence or disorder. “The authorities must stop criminalising protest, lift disproportionate restrictions on free assembly and expression and ensure protection of all human rights,” Kumar added.

The organisation said Assam-based anti-corruption and Right to Information activist Akhil Gogoi had been arrested under the amended Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and highlighted his organisation Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti’s role in organising the protests against the citizenship law.

Instead of sending signals against the police crackdown, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman warned of “jihadists, Maoists and separatists” infiltrating student protests in New Delhi, Amnesty added.

Follow live updates from protests across India