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Police arrest Kashmiri Muslims for celebrating Pakistan cricket team victory over India

<i>Aijaz Rahi/AP</i><br/>
Aijaz Rahi/AP
"Cricket unnecessarily has been mixed with politics and nationalism which is wrong ... it is an individual's right to cheer or support any team he or she likes the most

By Ben Morse and Esha Mitra, CNN

Indian police have arrested three Kashmiri Muslims for allegedly celebrating Pakistan’s win over India in the T20 World Cup on Sunday.

Police superintendent Vikash Kumar in Agra — a city in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh — told reporters on Tuesday evening that a complaint was filed at the Jagdishpura police station after “anti-national” messages were sent by students at Raja Balwant Singh (RBS) engineering college following the match between the two cricketing rivals.

On Wednesday, Uttar Pradesh Police tweeted that five people had been arrested in incidents throughout the state after “anti-national elements used disrespectful words against the Indian cricket team and made anti-India comments which disrupted peace.”

Police told CNN on Thursday that three students from RBS engineering college had been arrested on Wednesday “for committing an offense with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offense against the State or against the public tranquility.”

The three were also arrested for committing an offense of cyber terrorism under India’s information technology act, while the charge of sedition was added before they appeared in court on Thursday, Saurabh Singh, a deputy superintendent of police in Agra, said.

The sedition law is a colonial era law which prohibits “words either spoken or written, or by signs or visible representation” that attempts to cause “hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection,” toward the government.

Nasir Khuehami, national spokesperson for the Jammu and Kashmir Students Association, told CNN on Thursday evening that the three students who were arrested are Muslim students from Indian-administered Kashmir.

“This is absolutely targeting Kashmiri Muslims, I spoke to other local students today, the non-Kashmiri students at the college, they all said that yes, they cheered (in favor of Pakistan) and posted something on social media which could have hurt sentiments but what the complaint claims is that they shouted anti-India slogans and pro-partisan slogans,” Khuehami told CNN.

“That is not true, that is absolutely baseless, I’ve been told this by local students, so deliberately they are being used as scapegoats ahead of Uttar Pradesh elections.”

Uttar Pradesh, the largest state in India, is scheduled to hold legislative elections in the first quarter of 2022.

“Minutes ago, they were roughed up by right-wing activists in the presence of police after they were produced in court,” Khuehami said.

Kashmir is a territory that is administered in part by India and in part by Pakistan.

It has been a point of conflict between the two neighboring countries ever since the time of independence, and in 2019, the Indian central government took greater control over the region it controls, following which various freedoms were suspended, including a five-month-long internet shutdown. Recently, conflict in the heavily militarized region has been on the rise.

“We don’t feel there is anything wrong in cheering on a cricketer or a sportsperson, but slapping them with an FIR (First Information Report), with sedition, we feel it is a serious punishment and harsh punishment and we should not mix cricket with politics,” Khuehami continued.

“Cricket unnecessarily has been mixed with politics and nationalism which is wrong, I feel. There is nothing wrong with cheering or yelling for some team, it is an individual’s right to cheer or support any team he or she likes the most, and this is an arbitrary action by the college authorities and Uttar Pradesh Government,” Khuehami said, adding that the three students had also been suspended by the college administration at RBS engineering college.

The Jammu and Kashmir Students Association has written to the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh to revoke the FIR against the three Kashmiri students.

Following India’s heavy defeat to Pakistan — which Pakistan won by 10 wickets — Indian bowler Mohammad Shami faced online abuse being the only Muslim player on the Indian team. Several Indian cricketers came out in Shami’s support.

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India cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar said: “When we support Team India, we support every person who represents Team India. (Shami) is a committed, world-class bowler. He had an off day like any other sportsperson can have. I stand behind Shami & Team India.”

“Mohammad Shami being made a target of yesterday’s cricket match loss shows how radicalization and hate against Muslims has risen significantly. A team has 11 players, among them one is Muslim, so now he is being targeted,” Asaduddin Owaisi, president of political party All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen told reporters on Monday.

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