NEW DELHI       -        The crackdown by Indian authorities against those protesting the country’s new citizenship laws escalated as government security forces shut down internet across some cities, detained thousands people while death toll raised to 16.

Six new protesters have died in fresh clashes with police in northern India, a medical official said Friday, bringing the death toll to 16 in more than a week of unrest triggered by a contentious citizenship law.

The bodies of the men were brought into a hospital in Meerut, with two from neighbouring Muzaffarnagar district in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, Meerut district’s chief medical officer Rajkumar, who goes by one name. “We will be conducting a post-mortem to ascertain the exact cause of the death,” he said, adding that seven more demonstrators were taken to local hospitals with injuries.

As many as five persons were killed in violence during anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests in Uttar Pradesh, DGP O.P. Singh reportedly told PTI.

Media outlets had originally reported the number as six. Of the five casualties, two were reported from Bijnore, and one each from Firozabad, Sambhal and Meerut, the news agency quoted Singh as having said.

NDTV quoted Singh as having said that not one bullet was fired by police. “We did not shoot even a single bullet,” he said, even as another officer claimed that “if any firing happened, it was from the protesters’ side”.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act has been widely criticised as discriminatory against Muslims, especially when seen in conjunction with the Narendra Modi government’s plan to build a nationwide National Register of Citizens. Under the Act, members of six non-Muslim communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh – Hindus, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs and Parsis – are eligible for Indian citizenship if they entered the country before 2014.

The police have also detained activists Meera Sanghamitra, Arundhati Dhuru and Madhavi Kuckreja at Hazratganj Police station in Lucknow.

“It’s a shameful thing,” Indian leftist author and activist Arundhati Roy said. “This whole business of Section 144, suspending the internet, and arresting people.”

“They are turning India into Kashmir,” Roy added, referring to the Indian government’s brutal repression of the semi-autnomous region to the north.

“India is standing up. This government stands exposed and discredited. This is a day when love and solidarity face down bigotry and facism,” Roy said. “Everybody has joined in to protest against the unconstitutional CAB and NRC. We are Dalits, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Adivasis, Marxists, Ambedkarites, farmers, workers, academics, writers, poets, painters and most of all students who are the future of this country. This time you will not stop us,” she said.

“All the people here, be it those who are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian - they are all out on the streets,” Tanvi Gudiya said at a rally after Friday prayers in a Muslim neighbourhood in the capital New Delhi. “So doesn’t it affect Modi at all? Does Modi not like anyone? Why is he becoming like Hitler?”

The protests in Delhi centred on India’s largest mosque Jama Masjid where thousands of people - some carrying a huge Indian flag - chanted as riot police looked on. The demonstrators, joined by the leader of a prominent group in the Dalit community - the lowest group in the Hindu caste system - later pushed their way out of the mosque and tore down posters of Modi before staging a sit-in at Delhi Gate in the Old Delhi district.

More than a dozen metro stations were closed for the second straight day in the capital. In India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh, where mobile internet and text messaging services were cut in several areas, fresh clashes erupted in Lucknow, the state capital.

Violence also spread to other parts of the state, where almost 20 percent of the 200 million population are Muslim, with demonstrators throwing stones and police firing tear gas.

In Modi’s home state of Gujarat, there were new clashes between security forces and protesters in Vadodara city, a day after street battles in the largest city Ahmedabad left 20 policemen and 10 locals injured.

Meanwhile, in an unprecedented clampdown, internet services were suspended across major cities in Uttar Pradesh among other states, as the Adityanath government doubled down on efforts to check the spread of rage against the new citizenship law.

Internet access over mobile phones was suspended in major towns in Uttar Pradesh, including Lucknow, Kanpur, Allahabad, Agra, Aligarh, Ghaziabad, Varanasi, Mathura, Meerut, Moradabad, Muzaffarnagar, Bareli, Firozadad, Pilibhit, Rampur, Saharanpur, Shamli, Sambhal, Amroha, Mau, Azamgarh and Sultanpur following explicit state government orders, telecom industry officials said.

Broadband internet services were also suspended in some cities, including Lucknow and Ghaziabad. In Ghaziabad, especially, all schools have been closed in view of the violence.

The Uttar Pradesh government’s Additional Chief Secretary Awanish Kumar Awasthi in an order issued on December 19 stated that “messaging systems like SMS and WhatsApp and social media systems like Facebook and YouTube may be used extensively for the transmission of information like pictures, videos and texts that have the potential to inflame passions and thus exacerbate the law and order situation.”