Citizens protesting peacefully against a law cannot be called traitors or “anti-nationals”, the Bombay High Court said on Thursday in the context of a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Beed district of Maharashtra.

In an order on January 21, police had refused to allow a group of protestors to sit on an indefinite protest in Majalgaon in Beed district. A magistrate also did not let them protest. The protestors had moved the High Court challenging the police and magistrate order.

The Aurangabad bench of the High Court observed that the petitioner, Iftekhar Shaikh, and his companions only wanted to hold a peaceful protest, PTI reported. The court granted them permission to go ahead with it.

“This court wants to express that such persons cannot be called as traitors, anti-nationals only because they want to oppose one law,” said a division bench of Justices TV Nalavade and MG Sewlikar. “It will be act of protest and only against the government for the reason of CAA.”

The court said a protest cannot be suppressed just because people are opposing the government, The Indian Express reported. The judges also asked the bureaucracy to keep in mind that citizens are bound to defend their rights if they believe that a particular law is an attack on them. The court said the protestors in this case had given an undertaking that no slogans against any country or religion or against the nation would be used at the protest.

The bench quashed the orders issued by police and the magistrate, and called them illegal. The court said in its order: “We must keep in mind we are a democratic republic country and our Constitution has given us rule of law and not rule of majority. When such act [CAA] is made, some people may be of a particular religion like Muslims may feel that it is against their interest and such Act needs to be opposed.”

It is the government’s duty to approach such persons, talk with them and convince them, the court said. “India got freedom due to agitations which were non-violent and this path of non-violence is followed by the people of this country till date,” the order said further. “We are fortunate that most people of this country still believe in non-violence.”

The court added: “In the British period, our ancestors fought for freedom and also for human rights, and due to the philosophy behind the agitations, we created our Constitution. It can be said that it is unfortunate but the people are required to agitate against their own government now but only on that ground the agitation cannot be suppressed.”