When Pakistan clobbered India in the ICC Champions Trophy final on Sunday — pulling off an upset so shocking, ESPN called it “some diamond-studded, galactic-scale nonsense” — flabbergasted fans took to the streets in several countries to celebrate the national cricket team’s big win.
In India, those celebrations got some fans in deep legal trouble.
Police have arrested at least 19 people across the country on charges of sedition, according to the Times of India.
“While the entire country was saddened by the defeat, these people were raising slogans in favour of Pakistan and burst crackers on Sunday night, threatening peace in the area,” Sanjay Pathak, a police inspector in Madhya Pradesh, a state where 15 men were arrested, told the newspaper.
“They celebrated with firecrackers, distributing sweets and raising slogans of ‘Long live Pakistan,’ ” another Madhya Pradesh police officer, Ramasray Yadav, told The New York Times. “They expressed hatred toward India and friendship toward Pakistan. They are charged for sedition and criminal conspiracy.”
The Times reports that all the people arrested are Muslims:
“The arrests come as some Muslims in India say they feel a sense of rising alienation. There have been episodes of violence, including by vigilante groups that have staged attacks on Muslims and low-caste Hindus suspected of slaughtering cows, which are considered sacred in Hinduism, the dominant religion in India.”
“These arrests are patently absurd, and the 19 men should be released immediately,” Asmita Basu, program director of Amnesty International India, said in a statement.
“Even if the arrested men had supported Pakistan, as the police claim, that is not a crime,” Basu continued. “Supporting a sporting team is a matter of individual choice, and arresting someone for cheering a rival team clearly violates their right to freedom of expression.”
But Pathak maintains similar situations have caused unrest in the past.
“This has been happening for several years, whenever there is an India-Pakistan match,” he told CNN. “We don’t have any previous cases or official complaints on record but those residing in Mohad have told us that this has happened before.”
As NPR’s Michel Martin reported, the two countries rarely play each other in cricket, partly because of political tensions between them — which made Sunday’s match all the more heavy with consequence.
Osman Samiuddin, senior editor of ESPNCricinfo, told Michel that “450 to 500 million people watched it around the world on TV. … It’s not just a sport. It’s not just a religion. I think it’s become a compulsion.”