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December 14, 2019

Delhi, 5 states refuse to implement citizenship law

Top Story

December 14, 2019

GUWAHATI, India: Protests in India against a new anti-Muslim citizenship law spread to other regions on Friday, a day after two people were shot dead by the police in northeast of the country, the epicenter of days of demonstrations.

Police with batons and firing tear gas clashed with hundreds of students in New Delhi, television pictures showed, as Muslim protesters set fire to placards in Amritsar and other rallies were held in Kolkata, Kerala and Prime Minister Narendra Modi´s home state Gujarat.

The protests in Guwahati in the northeast, where medical staff earlier confirmed two people were shot dead out of 26 who were admitted to hospital with gunshot wounds on Thursday night, prompted Modi and Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe to postpone a summit in the area slated for Sunday. With four people still in critical condition on Friday, the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva called on India "to respect the right to peaceful assembly, and to abide by international norms and standards on the use of force when responding to protests." In Guwahati, the main city in Assam state, rioters on Thursday left a trail of destruction, torching vehicles, blocking roads with bonfires and hurling stones at thousands of riot police who were backed up by the military.

With the Internet suspended in many areas of the city, several thousand people gathered for a sit-in protest on Friday and no major incident was reported.

Many cash machines had no money, shops were shuttered and petrol stations closed.

Authorities in Meghalaya, another north-eastern state, cut off mobile internet and imposed a curfew in parts of the capital Shillong. Around 20 people were hurt in clashes there on Friday, reports said.

"They can´t settle anyone in our motherland. This is unacceptable. We will die but not allow outsiders to settle here," protester Manav Das told AFP on Friday in Guwahati.

"We will defeat the government with the force of the people and the government will be forced to revoke the law," said local activist Samujal Battacharya.

The passage of the law sparked angry scenes in both houses of parliament this week, with one lawmaker likening it to anti-Jewish legislation by the Nazis in 1930s Germany.

The chief ministers of New Delhi, West Bengal, Punjab, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have said they will not implement the law.

West Bengal´s firebrand leader Mamata Banerjee, who has called for major protests in state capital Kolkata on Monday, said Modi wanted to "divide the nation".

"It is completely unconstitutional and goes against the idea of India," Aditya Mukherjee, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, told the NDTV channel.

Separately, security was increased at the consulate of Bangladesh in Guwahati after a vehicle in the consul´s convoy was attacked Wednesday by mobs protesting the bill´s adoption, the foreign ministry in Dhaka said in a statement late Thursday.

Bangladesh "believes that the attack on the convoy" and the vandalization of sign posts near the consulate "is a one-off incident," the statement read.

Five thousand troops were deployed in Guwahati, while many roads and highways were blocked to prevent the spread of protests.

Officials said 20 to 30 people have been hurt in demonstrations in recent days, with vehicles torched and police firing tear gas and charging the crowds with wooded staffs.

Guwahati´s top police officer, Deepak Kumar, was removed from his post and replaced over the outbreak of violence, authorities said.

All train services to Tripura and Assam were suspended and some flights were cancelled. Several cricket and football matches scheduled to be played in Assam were also called off amid the curfew.

Without citing the unrest, Bangladesh home minister Asaduzzaman Khan postponed his Friday visit to the northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya, his spokesman Sharif Mahmud Apu told AFP.

"He will visit Meghalaya at a later time," Apu said, without giving a reason.

Modi sought to calm the situation in a series of tweets that many in the region could not read because mobile internet was mostly blocked.

"I appeal to the northeast, to Assam and every other state -- every community there -- to assure that their culture, traditions and language will keep getting the respect and support," he said at a rally at eastern Jharkhand state.

India's new citizenship law is ‘fundamentally discriminatory’ in nature and does not offers Muslims the same protection as other minorities, the UN human rights office said on Friday.

"The amended law would appear to undermine the commitment to equality before the law enshrined in India's constitution and India's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to which Indian is a State party, which prohibit discrimination based on racial, ethnic or religious grounds," Jeremy Laurence, spokesman for the Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Office, said in Geneva.

“Although India’s broader naturalization laws remain in place, these amendments will have a discriminatory effect on people’s access to nationality," he said.

Meanwhile, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which is an independent federal government entity established by the US Congress to report on threats to religious freedom, urged the US government to take effective action against India over the successful passage of a controversial citizenship bill in the Indian parliament.

In a message shared on Twitter late on Thursday, the commission, which makes foreign policy recommendations to the US President and the US Secretary of State, said it was alarmed over the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Bill by New Delhi. The passage of the bill has triggered violent protests in the Hindu-majority country.

In the message, the commission also shared an internet link to an earlier statement in which the religious freedom body had warned that it would propose sanctions against senior members of the Indian leadership if the bill was enacted as law.

Now that the bill has passed the Upper House of the Indian parliament, the body reiterated the call for punitive action.

Meanwhile, Indian President Ram Nath Kovind signed the new citizenship law, which will bring controversial changes to the legislation.

“According to an official notification, the act comes into effect with its publication in the official gazette on Thursday.

According to the act, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till Dec. 31, 2014 and are facing religious persecution there will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian citizenship.