The arrest of former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid for his alleged role in the large-scale communal violence in February in North East Delhi over the Citizenship Amendment Act has attracted widespread condemnation. The Delhi Police’s Special Cell arrested Khalid on Sunday night under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act after nearly 11 hours of questioning.

Khalid was produced before the court on Monday and sent to 10-day police custody.

Activist group United Against Hate, of which Khalid is a member, said he was another victim. “The fairy tale narrative that DP [Delhi Police] has been spinning and criminalising protests in the garb of investigating riots, finds yet another victim,” the group said in a statement, according to NDTV.

Meanwhile, at least 36 citizens and groups, including eminent personalities like writer Arundhati Roy, advocate Prashant Bhushan, Delhi University professors Nandini Sundar and Apoorvanand, issued a statement calling for his immediate release. “With deep anguish we have no doubt in saying that this investigation is not about the violence in February 2020 in the national Capital, but on the completely peaceful and democratic protests across the country against the unconstitutional CAA,” they said in the statement.

“The right to life, is not just to be allowed to eat, live and breathe; it is to live without fear, with dignity and with freedom of expression, including dissent,” the statement added. “The nature of investigation has been mainly to silence democratic voices and instill fear, and this is precisely the objective of this witch hunt.” The signatories also included activists Aakar Patel, Kavita Srivastava, journalist P Sainath, historian Ramachandra Guha, economist and JNU professor Jayati Ghosh and politicians Jignesh Mevani and Brinda Karat.

Incidentally, some of the signatories of the statement have been named by the Delhi Police as people who had “encouraged” the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protestors as part of a plan. The police’s chargesheet had annexed two identical “disclosure statements”, in which the Delhi Police claimed that Pinjra Tod activists Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal admitted to not just their complicity in the violence, but also named Jayati Ghosh, Apoorvanand and filmmaker Rahul Roy as their “mentors”, who asked them to carry on the protests even if it led to violence.

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Amnesty India called Khalid’s arrest “another example of the crackdown on peaceful anti-CAA protests”. The rights group also pointed out that the police have taken no action against political leaders who made alleged hate speeches before the violence.

It added that peaceful protest was not a crime. It accused the government of using the stringent UAPA to “harass, intimidate and imprison” protestors. “The slow investigative processes and extremely stringent bail provisions under this law ensure that they are locked up for years without trial, turning the process into punishment,” it added.

The JNU Teachers’ Association also condemned the arrest and called it a “never ending witch hunt” by the Delhi Police. “The JNUTA notes that Umar Khalid had also been one of those specially targeted during the vicious slander campaign unleashed against JNU in February 2016 and had then been charged with ‘sedition’,” the association said in a statement. “The JNUTA adds its voice to those of thousands of citizens protesting against what is not merely a process of criminalization of dissent but also a de facto criminalization of law enforcement itself.”

IPS officer Rupin Sharma was among those to speak out against the arrest on Monday. Sharing a clip of BJP leader Kapil Mishra’s inflammatory speech ahead of the violence, Sharma said in a sarcasm-laden tweet: “Have misplaced my spectacles but Is this Umar Khalid?”

Clashes had broken out between supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing it in North East Delhi in February, killing 53 people and injuring hundreds. The violence was Delhi’s worst since the anti-Sikh violence of 1984.