Social activist and Magsaysay awardee Sandeep Pandey on Thursday wrote an open letter to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath, criticising the “vengeance” with which the state government was acting against people protesting against the amendments to the Citizenship Act, PTI reported.

Pandey, who was himself placed under house arrest during the protests, said the violence was perpetrated by “anarchist elements”. He added that more “maturity and restraint” was expected of any government.

The police in Lucknow arrested at least three dozen people in connection with the violence on December 19, including activist and actress Sadaf Jafar, who ended up recording her own arrest while doing a livestream video from the site of the protest. She is still in police custody. Meanwhile, theatre actor and director Deepak Kabir was brutally beaten up by policemen on the same day when he tried to find out the whereabouts of some of his missing friends after the protest the previous day. He too has been arrested. Besides Jafar and Kabir, the police also arrested Mohammed Shoaib, a 76-year-old human rights lawyer.

Referring to these arrests, Pandey said: “If you [Adityanath] will send social activists, who have faith in the Constitution, to jail because your police are unable to identify the anarchist elements, then peaceful means of expressing dissent against the government in a democracy will be eliminated and anarchist elements will easily be able to mislead the common people”.

Pandey said he had sought an appointment with Adityanath on December 21 but did not get a response. “The vengeance with which the UP government-administration is acting in response to the violence by anarchist elements which took place during protests is condemnable as more maturity and restraint is expected of any government-administration,” Pandey added. “A pertinent question which needs to be asked is when lakhs of people assembled at other places in the country without any untoward incident, why did violence break out in UP?”

He said in the First Information Report registered at Hazratganj police station, out of 39 accused, 36 names were those of Muslims “whereas non-Muslims participated in the protests in large numbers”, and that all of the 16 youths who succumbed to bullet injuries were Muslims.

“If there will be a bias against Muslims in taking action then how can they be expected to have confidence in the government administration?” the Magsaysay award winner asked.

Pandey requested the administration to withdraw the cases against the activists and release the innocent people.

At least 18 people have died in Uttar Pradesh since protests erupted last week following Friday prayers. The nationwide toll is 25. According to a report on December 23, 14 of 17 deaths in the state were because of firearm injuries. Earlier this week, the police admitted that one civilian in Bijnor was killed by a constable in “self defence”. The police have been accused of using excessive force to deal with the demonstrators. On Wednesday, HuffPost India reported that the police in Bijnor had detained at least five minors last week, and tortured them for 48 hours.

Also read: In Uttar Pradesh, mapping reports of violence and police brutality from 15 districts