More than 20 film personalities including Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bhardwaj, Mahesh Bhatt and Ratna Pathak Shah on Sunday issued a statement against the arrest of students and activists by the Delhi Police for protesting against the amendments to the Citizenship Act, and demanded their release.

Jamia Millia Islamia University students Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar, have been arrested by the police for their alleged role in organising protests against the Citizenship Act. Clashes had broken out between the supporters of the law and those opposing it between February 23 and 26 in North East Delhi, killing 53 people and injuring hundreds. The police were accused of either inaction or complicity in some instances of violence, mostly in Muslim neighbourhoods. The violence was the worst Delhi saw since the anti-Sikh riots of 1984.

“The country right now is reeling through a grave crisis as a result of the novel coronavirus and nearly a month long lockdown,” the signatories said. “We are all being asked to stay home and stay safe in order to break the chain of the deadly virus. We are shocked to know that in the midst of such a grave situation, the Delhi Police arrested two students of Jamia Millia Islamia and several activists from localities of North East Delhi who participated in peaceful protests against the CAA.”

The Jamia Coordination Committee, a body of students who have been active since December 15, when protests started, had said that Haider and Zargar were visiting the area for relief work after the violence, and alleged that members of the minority community are being targeted.

The signatories said many more students and activists are being called for questioning by the police on daily basis and termed it a “twisted fairy tale”.

They added that the nationwide lockdown to tackle the coronavirus “cannot be a lockdown of the rights of citizens” and must not be “abused” by the authorities in such a manner. “A riot in which the minorities suffered the maximum damage, both in terms of lives and livelihoods, has now become a pretext for the Delhi Police to further witch-hunt activists, most of whom also come from the minority community,” they signatories said.

The other signatories include directors Aparna Sen, Hansal Mehta, Ashwini Chaudhary, Onir, Vinta Nanda, Neeraj Ghaywan, actor-directors Nandita Das, Konkona Sen Sharma, actors Sushant Singh, Zeeshan Ayyub, Sandhya Mridul, music composer Vishal Dadlani, and others.

They called the actions of the police “utterly inhuman” and “undemocratic” amid the coronavirus outbreak. “Making several people travel to police stations every day and then throwing some of them to jails also defeats the purpose of the lockdown and makes a mockery of social distancing,” they further said. “At a time when various governments are releasing under-trials from jail to relieve the pressure from the prisons and restrict chances of contamination. The Delhi Police is pushing students and activists into jail.”

They added that the Constitution gives citizens the right to protest and express their views. “Many people in the country and the world had condemned the draconian Citizenship Amendment Act,” the statement read. “Our opposition to the CAA continues, as we see it as a bigoted law that strikes at the secular fabric of our country. We condemn this witch-hunt of students and activists because they exercised their constitutional right to protest against CAA/NRC/NPR.”

To fight the coronavirus pandemic, the signatories said that the citizens and authorities need to stand by each other and not target activists. “We urge the Delhi Police to stop abusing the lockdown, respect the human rights of our fellow citizens and put an end to this witch-hunt. We demand the release of these students and activists,” they added.