NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian police on Wednesday detained around a dozen student protesters who were trying to march to the Parliament building in New Delhi to demand the release of a 22-year-old climate activist arrested for circulating a document on social media supporting months of protests by farmers.
The protesters shouted “Free Disha Ravi” and “Shame on Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah” as they tried to break police barricades outside the office of the National Students’ Union of India, or NSUI, a student wing of the main opposition Congress party.
A heavy police presence overpowered about 40 protesters, including a dozen who were taken away in a bus.
It was not immediately known whether the police were going to formally arrest them or free them later Wednesday.
Neeraj Kundan, the NSUI president, told reporters that the protest was against the government misusing a sedition law and arresting activists expressing support to the farmers.
New Delhi police say Ravi shared the document with Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, who tweeted it earlier this month.
They say the sharing of the document on social media indicated there was a “conspiracy” behind violence on Jan. 26, India’s Republic Day, when the largely peaceful farmer protests erupted into clashes with police. One protester died and hundreds of police and demonstrators were injured.
A group of students from New Delhi’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University held a similar protest in the Indian capital on Tuesday. Anti-government protests also hit the Indian cities of Mumbai and Bengaluru.
Prasenjit, a student leader who uses one name, demanded the release of Ravi and dozens of protesting farmers arrested by New Delhi police.
Opposition parties called the arrests harassment, intimidation and an attack on democracy. Overseas, the niece of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, Meena Harris, criticized the government on Twitter for silencing activists.
Police also issued arrest warrants for two other activists, Nikita Jacob and Shantanu Muluk, saying the three created the document and shared it with others. A Mumbai court granted them bail and stayed their arrest for three weeks.
Police said the document contained links to websites that were pro-Khalistani, a movement for an independent Sikh homeland from India called Khalistan in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Since November, tens of thousands of farmers have camped outside New Delhi and blocked highways to protest new agricultural reform laws that they say will devastate their incomes. The protests have posed a major challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government, which says the laws are needed to modernize Indian farming.