India

India 'sedition' students suspended

Umar Khalid, accused of sedition Image copyright EPA
Image caption Umar Khalid was one of the organisers of the protest on 9 February

Two Indian students accused of sedition for helping organise a protest at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University have been suspended.

Umar Khalid has been suspended for one semester and Anirban Bhattacharya has been barred from campus for five years.

Both students, and student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, who was also charged with sedition, have also been fined.

The three students were involved in a protest, on 9 February, over the hanging of a Kashmiri man, Afzal Guru.

Afzal Guru was convicted of a 2001 plot to attack India's parliament, charges he always denied. The attack, in which 14 people died, was carried out by Pakistan-based militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.

His hanging in 2013 sparked protests in Kashmir, and he was seen as a martyr and a symbol of perceived injustice.

On 9 February, students at JNU held a demonstration to mark his execution. There were allegations that anti-India slogans were chanted at the protest.

Mr Kumar was arrested, while Mr Khalid and Mr Bhattacharya went missing but later handed themselves over to the police. All three were accused of sedition.

The arrests of the students led to protests and clashes across India.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The authorities alleged that Mr Kumar and others shouted anti-India slogans

Critics condemned the charges as an assault on freedom of expression, but government ministers refused to back down, vowing to punish what they described as "anti-national elements".

In addition to being suspended from classes, Mr Khalid and Mr Bhattacharya have been fined 20,000 rupees ($299; £206) each.

Mr Kumar has been fined 10,000 rupees.

Reports say that Mr Khalid and Mr Bhattacharya have been blamed for "triggering communal violence" and "disrupting" harmony on the campus. Mr Kumar was found guilty of indiscipline and misconduct.

Mr Bhattacharya said the punishment was "unacceptable", and described it as a "fascist witch-hunt of student activists by the administration".

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