March 9, 2020 / 8:38 AM / 19 days ago

Indian state retains billboards 'naming and shaming' anti-govt protesters

LUCKNOW, March 9 (Reuters) - India’s most populous state on Monday defied a request from its top court to remove large displays of the names, pictures and addresses of dozens of anti-government protesters, that have sparked fears for their safety from vigilante mob attacks.

The government of northern Uttar Pradesh put up six hoardings last week in prominent places in its capital, Lucknow, identifying people it says joined in violent protests against a new citizenship law based on religion.

The state government, run by an ally of Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accuses the 57 people depicted in the posters of rioting in December.

None has been convicted of a crime, however, and they accuse the government of trying to “name and shame” protesters.

“Is this an invitation for the mob?” Sadaf Jafar, the only woman to appear on the signs, told Reuters.

“The action by the police and administration has made our lives more vulnerable. How will we feel secure in our city?”

While it was not possible to verify the religion of those featured, the majority had names commonly borne by India’s minority Muslim population.

Jafar is considering taking legal action against the government, she added.

The actions of the government were “totally illegal”, said S.R. Darapuri, a former police officer who also appeared on the billboards for supporting the state’s protests.

“We are not absconders or hardcore criminals,” he said. “The government by this act has put our lives in danger.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have held demonstrations across India since late last year to protest against the citizenship law, which they say discriminates against Muslims.

Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party says the law is required to protect non-Muslim refugees across South Asia.

On Sunday, Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Ramesh Sinha of the Allahabad High Court in Uttar Pradesh verbally urged the government to remove the posters.

But Mrityunjay Kumar, the top adviser to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, said the posters would remain until the court issued a written order, adding that they were a bid to recover damages from those accused.

“This has been done after following every legal procedure,” he said. “This procedure is very similar to the auctioning done by banks when one fails to repay the loan.”

India’s demonstrations have spurred often-violent clashes between protesters and police, some along sectarian lines, in which more than 70 people have died, a majority in last month’s bloodletting between Hindus and Muslims in the capital Delhi. (Reporting by Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow, Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Clarence Fernandez)

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