Commuters walk past a billboard installed by Uttar Pradesh authorities displaying pictures, names and addresses of people accused of vandalism during deadly protests in December against a contentious citizenship law, in Lucknow on March 9, 2020. Photo: AFP

An Indian court on Monday ordered the removal of scores of “name and shame” billboards after an outcry over their photos showing people accused of vandalism during deadly protests.

The huge images have been erected over recent days by authorities in Uttar Pradesh, a state run by Yogi Adityanath, who is a controversial hardline Hindu monk from the ruling party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Uttar Pradesh was the epicenter of protests and violence in December following the passage of a new citizenship law, with at least 22 demonstrators shot dead in clashes with police.

The legislation fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslim minorities from neighboring countries and has stoked claims that Modi wants to remould India as a Hindu nation and marginalize its 200 million Muslims.

Modi denies the claims, but protests against the law were also the spark last month for the worst religious riots in decades in New Delhi when more than 50 people were killed in clashes between Muslims and Hindus.

The billboards in state capital Lucknow were aimed at pressuring those accused of vandalizing property to pay for the damage in what authorities called a “name and shame” campaign.

Of the 53 people whose faces were put on display — along with their names and addresses – none has been convicted by a court.

Ordering their removal by March 16, the court in Allahabad slammed the billboards as “highly unjust” and “an absolute encroachment on the personal liberty of individuals.” 

Branded a criminal’

Sadaf Jafar, an activist whose name and photo figures on the giant hoardings, welcomed the ruling but said she was still worried she could come to physical harm. 

“I have been left vulnerable… I am concerned about the safety of self and my children,” she said. 

Another activist Deepak Kabir told AFP: “Justice has been served. But I have been branded as a criminal. My family is scared.”

Rights group Amnesty International India welcomed the ruling, saying the government had violated the right to privacy guaranteed under Indian and international laws. 

“We urge the central and state governments to drop all charges and notices against such protesters, and instead ensure that the leaders and officials who have incited violence and hatred between communities are held accountable,” Amnesty tweeted.