The Uttar Pradesh Police on Wednesday arrested 19 people and charged them with sedition, during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens in Azamgarh town, The Indian Express reported on Thursday. The police also fired tear gas shells to disperse the demonstrators.

The police named 35 people in a first information report, including a woman identified as Munni Bano who was released “as she is a heart patient”. All the 19 people who were arrested were sent to prison.

The protestors alleged that the police resorted to stone-pelting and then baton charge to disperse them. The police denied a baton charge but acknowledged that they fired tear gas shells.

“There was no lathi-charge…The rioters started pelting police with stones and also women sitting inside the park,” Bilariyaganj Station Officer Manoj Kumar Singh said. “Then, tear gas shells were used. The women got hurt because of stone-pelting by people who had gathered near the park.” Singh said the police used “six to seven” tear gas shells.

A 45-year-old woman protestor said that while the men and boys were arrested, some women were injured in the baton charge. “All through this, police used communal slurs and all kinds of abuses,” she alleged. The protestors also claimed that after women left the park, the police flooded it with water in order to prevent them from gathering there again.

In a statement, the police claimed that the protestors were shouting slogans against the country and the government, abusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Adityanath, and “making announcements against the Hindu religion”. “They were saying they will snatch azadi and will get azadi anyhow,” the statement added.

A woman identified as Sarwari Bano, 65, was seriously injured. “My mother sustained an injury to her head and was operated upon today,” Bano’s son Bilal said. “Doctors say her brain has been damaged. We live next to the park and when there was chaos, she went out to check and was injured. I don’t know who threw the stone that hit her.” However, Bilal added that his mother is now out of danger.

Apart from filing a first information report under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, the Azamgarh Police have also announced a reward of Rs 25,000 for information on three persons accused of rioting. They have also confiscated four motorbikes.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed by Parliament on December 11 last year, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014. The Act has been widely criticised for excluding Muslims, leading to protests against it.

At least 19 persons have died in Uttar Pradesh during demonstrations, as the police have been accused of using excessive force against the rioters. The nationwide toll is 29, of which 27 people have died in states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Two people were killed during protests last month in West Bengal.

Sedition charges against 233 people in five years: Centre

Meanwhile, the Centre told the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday that 233 people have been charged with sedition in the last five years, PTI reported. Of these, 37 each were from Assam and Jharkhand, Union Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy said. He added that as per the National Crime Records Bureau, the sedition charge was slapped against 47 people in 2014, 30 in 2015, 51 in 2017 and 70 in 2018.