The arrest of a climate activist in India triggered outrage on Monday, with opposition politicians, prominent voices, and rights activists calling the move an "attack on democracy.”
Disha Ravi, 22, was arrested on Sunday in the southern city of Bangalore in connection with a "toolkit" posted by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg on Twitter.
The document provides information on how to support ongoing protests of farmers against agriculture reforms meant to liberalize the farming sector.
Delhi police accuse Ravi of editing and being a "key conspirator" in the "formulation and dissemination" of the toolkit. Two more activists, Nikita Jacob and Shantanu Muluk, are also wanted in the case.
In a statement, an official said the toolkit is mean to spread disinformation and disaffection against the lawfully enacted government.
"The toolkit sought to artificially amplify the fake news and other falsehoods and also sought to precipitate action on 26th January, i.e. India’s Republic Day."
Last month farmers broke through police barricades to storm the historic Red Fort in the capital New Delhi.
- Under fire, government defends move
The hashtag #IndiabeingSilenced was trending on Twitter as Indians blasted the government for the arrest.
"The arrest is a chilling reminder that you can't take part in civil engagements or criticize the government," women rights activist Saira Shah Halim told Anadolu Agency. "The arrest is simply a sign of intimidation and attack on the country's democracy."
She added: "The arrest tells you that if you criticize the government, you will meet a similar fate."
Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the main opposition Indian National Congress, said, "India won’t be silenced," while Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called the arrest an "unprecedented attack on democracy" and that "supporting our farmers is not a crime."
Jairam Ramesh, a former Indian minister from the Congress party, called the arrest "completely atrocious."
"The arrest and the manner of arrest of green activist Disha Ravi shows clearly the intensifying murder of democracy in India," he said.
Lawmaker Shashi Tharoor and former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram also condemned the arrest.
In a tweet, Rupi Kaur, an Indian-born Canadian poet, called for the release of Ravi and all protesting farmers detained since November.
A spokesperson for the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party, however, defended the move action. "A criminal is a criminal, gender and age are immaterial if not a juvenile," Gaurav Bhatia said on Twitter. "Supporting farmers is not a crime but conspiring against India and inciting others surely is."
Earlier, the police had said the document appeared to have been created by a "pro-Khalistani" (Sikh separatist movement) outfit, the Poetic Justice Foundation, to "wage war against India.”
The farmers’ movement has also drawn international support, including from US pop star Rihanna and Meena Harris, an activist and niece of US Vice President Kamala Harris.
By Ahmad Adil in New Delhi