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new internet cuts, protesters keep up the pressure

A protest rally against the citizenship law, in Calcutta (India), Thursday December 26, 2019. Bikas Das / AP

New protests against the citizenship law started on Friday December 27 in India. Anticipating new mobilizations against this law, which is deemed to discriminate against Muslims, the Indian authorities have cut access to mobile Internet and text messages in certain districts of Uttar Pradesh.

In the northern Indian state, controlled by Hindu nationalists and led by a radical monk, mobile internet was restored on Tuesday after nearly a week of suspension. This region of 220 million people has 20% Muslims. Blocking internet access to limit protests is a common technique used by authorities in India, the country in the world that has used this method the most. According to internetshutdowns.in, around a hundred have already been identified in 2019 alone.

Hundreds of people began to assemble in front of the New Delhi Grand Mosque after Friday prayers in this old part of the capital, which has been checked by law enforcement officials. Riot police and paramilitaries erected barricades on the streets leading to the mosque, where violent clashes had broken out during previous demonstrations.

But the protesters said they were determined to continue until the Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi would withdraw its controversial law providing for Indian citizenship for refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, except those of the Muslim faith. “They want to expel the poor, the Muslims, and all those who do not agree with them” A protester, Muntazir Bashir, told Agence France-Presse.

Twenty-seven dead

Before Friday's big prayer, thousands of armed police officers patrolled Muslim-dominated Uttar Pradesh districts. 5,000 people were placed in preventive detention, in addition to 1,000 others already arrested in connection with the demonstrations. In Bombay, the economic capital, hundreds of police were deployed and dozens of checkpoints were set up. A counter demonstration by 200 supporters of the law also took place in the city.

In the past two weeks, twenty-seven people have perished in sometimes violent demonstrations against this legislation, which has crystallized the grievances and fears raised by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is the largest protest movement since the Hindu nationalists came to power in 2014.

Uttar Pradesh is particularly affected: a week ago, violent clashes broke out after the exit from the mosques, leading to the death of nineteen people – most of them shot dead. This brutal response by the police forces anger the demonstrators, who accuse the authorities of arbitrary repression.

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Expulsion of foreign opponents

Approved on December 11 by Parliament, the disputed law facilitates the granting of Indian citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Jain, Buddhist and Parsi refugees who arrived before 2014 and who fled “For religious reasons” Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bangladesh, if they have lived in India for at least five years. Only Muslim residents are excluded from the scheme. They will remain undocumented, that is to say that they will have no rights.

If this law does not directly concern Indian Muslims, it has heightened the concerns of this religious minority (14% of the 1.3 billion Indians), who fear being relegated to the rank of second class citizens in India Hindu nationalists.

While this protest movement has wide international repercussions, the Indian authorities keep an eye on the actions of foreigners present in the country and take sanctions if they discover that they have joined the mobilization.

A Norwegian tourist who participated in a protest in the southern Indian state of Kerala has been ordered to leave the country, the Press Trust of India news agency reported. Earlier in the week, a German university exchange student in Chennai (also in the South) also had to leave India after participating in a march against citizenship law, according to the Indian press. According to photos published by the media, the young man had paraded with a sign saying “1933-1945 We have been there”, in reference to Nazi Germany.

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