Indian police said on Thursday that 15 Muslims arrested for celebrating a recent Pakistani cricket victory over India would not be charged with sedition, but could still face prison for cheering the rival side.
The villagers from central Madhya Pradesh state were arrested Monday after letting off fireworks and cheering for Pakistan as the underdogs beat India in the final of the Champions Trophy in England. A Hindu neighbor in Burhanpur district complained to police and the men were detained for sedition—which can carry a life sentence—among other offenses, drawing criticism from rights groups. But Burhanpur police chief Raja Ram Parihar said the sedition charges had been dropped, as there was no evidence the men chanted anti-India slogans.
“They did shout slogans in favor of the Pakistan cricket team and lit firecrackers, but that does not warrant sedition charges,” Parihar told AFP.
However they still face charges of disrupting communal harmony and criminal conspiracy for the rowdy celebration in Burhanpur, which has large Muslim and Hindu populations and a history of religious violence.
Rights group Amnesty international slammed the arrests and demanded the men be immediately released.
At least eight other cricket fans were arrested around India on sedition charges after celebrating Pakistan 180-run thumping of their arch-rivals.
Passions run high in both countries over cricket, especially when the hostile neighbors meet on the pitch.
Cricket fans in both countries have been arrested in the past for supporting rival teams. Around 60 Indian students were arrested for sedition in 2014 after being accused of cheering for Pakistan after a similar upset over India.
Last year a Pakistani man was arrested for waving an Indian flag after his idol Virat Kohli, India’s cricket captain, made a match-winning century.