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Fifty-three years ago, Atal Bihari Vajpayee called this law a “donkey that had been made to look like a horse.”
Today, it still remains horrifyingly omnipresent in the working machinery of the present regime, flexing its muscles by using the criminal justice system and draconian laws to strike terror against journalists, human rights activists, students, or for a matter of fact, anyone opposing its fascist policies.

“For the longest time, I would pray for his release. But now, I am praying that he doesn’t die. The way he is being treated, and with his worsening condition, I worry he might die in jail,”

said Sanjida, wife of the 28-year-old Atikur Rehman who was arrested along with Kerala journalist Siddique
Kappan while on their way to Hathras in 2020 to report the incident of the gang-rape and death of a Dalit
teenager by upper caste men. Rehman now lies “partially paralysed” and “highly disoriented” in a ward
at Lucknow’s King George’s Medical University (KGMU) hospital, and Kappan still remains in jail, two years
with no sign of bail. The “sensitive nature of the case” could be the reason, says his attorney, why no one
is willing to act as his surety

Furthermore, Mohammed Zubair was arrested after a complaint alleged that the AltNews co-founder had hurt religious sentiments, while Umar Khalid and numerous other anti-CAA activists were implicated in fabricated criminal charges related to the Delhi riots. These are only a few of the numerous incidents of attacks on media professionals, particularly the independent media, that have occurred in India during the past few years. Since the BJP came to power in 2014, the number of persons who are being persecuted for their identification and commitment to fighting for democratic and progressive rights has dramatically increased. From the 2018 Bhima Koregaon arrests and the 2020 CAA protests to the most recent arrests of Teesta Setalvad and Mohammad Zubair, the current leadership is hell-bent on locking up anyone who speaks unpleasant truths and exposes their lies.

According to some, democracy is not just a pipe dream; it is a real idea whose fundamental components are listed in the preamble: social, economic, and political justice; freedom of speech and religion; and equality of status and opportunity. This regime has discovered that, rather than explicitly abolishing democracy, another, less obvious way to do so is to completely deny the people’s rights to social, economic, and political justice, to
severely restrict their freedoms of expression and thought, to suppress their right to practice their religion, and to give up their commitment to the ideal of a society in which everyone is treated equally.

UAPA, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, has been abused by successive governments for decades, transitioning from an anti-secession law to an anti-terrorism law. Criminalising dissident views and actions, this act blurs the line between political dissent and criminal behavior, while engaging in a violation of the fundamental right to association. Due to this, political opposition is severely criminalised as some ideologies, groups, and opinions end up being labelled as unlawful. As a result, certain organisations that contest the legitimacy of the State and the ruling classes become targets of political witch hunts.

Take the case of Umar Khalid, who is “so dangerous an offender that he cannot be released on bail” and has been kept in jail for the last two years without any concrete evidence except for an alleged “meeting of minds”
which schemed the Delhi riots. Other police evidence includes a speech that is available to the public but does
not incite violence, testimonies from witnesses that differ from the police, and communications from WhatsApp groups that discussed organising protests against CAA, where he was hardly active. The irony that remains is that the riots that Khalid is accused of starting claimed the lives of over 53 people, the majority
of whom were Muslims. Similarly, the majority of the 18 people who were accused of hatching a plot to foment
racial unrest and were charged with terrorism under the UAPA, as well as murder, sedition, and over two
dozen other crimes under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, are also Muslims. Additionally, some of the remarks
made by several Delhi courts about police investigations into these riots stated these investigations to be ‘absolutely’ evasive,’ ‘lackadaisical,’ ‘callous,’ ‘casual,’ ‘farcical,’ ‘painful to see,’ and ‘misusing the judicial system.”

One also comes across bizarre cases, like in Kashmir, where 10 young men were booked in September under the same law because the police alleged that they were playing a cricket match in the “memory” of a militant
who was killed last year. Explanations like these boggle one’s normally functioning brain in ways not known
to humankind. What UAPA simply means is jail without bail and without a trial, on the grounds of little to no
evidence. One section of the Act says, “The accused must be informed of the grounds of arrest as soon as may
be,” meaning that the person who is being arrested might not even know why they are being arrested and the
arresting officer can take their sweet time in informing them as to why to they are being sent to jail.

The pattern is evident. Not merely actions, but also any anti-government beliefs are being criminalised. The state cynically employs investigations as weapons, turning an already unjust criminal justice system against those who oppose the state’s unlawful policies. As a result, the so-called inquiries into the Delhi Riots actually
result in the targeting of anti-CAA activists, while Bhima Koregaon is used as a cover to attack Dalit
intellectuals as well as human rights advocates and attorneys.

Aayat Farooqui

[email protected]

An overview over previously amended UAPA, aimed to counter terrorists, has resulted in terrorised dissidents instead.

Free speech, political dissention, and even mild criticism, might get anyone designated as ‘terrorist’ by the Centre, ever since Home Minister Amit Shah, in a sovereign state, proposed the amended version of an already ‘draconian law’ called, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), and it somewhat suits the ‘rishta vohi soch nayi’ narrative with its uncanny resemblance to the Rowlatt Act of 1919 set by the colonisers to criminalise protests.

What is UAPA?

In 1967, UAPA was passed for the first time in the parliament, and it gave the entitlement to the government to designate any ‘organisation’ as ‘unlawful.’ It further defined and criminalised what it seemed as unlawful. However in 2004, Manmohan Singh led Congress further amended it without getting it scrutinised by the special committee. The government was disposed with more power, defined terrorism, and could declare any organisation as ‘terrorist.’ It also empowered the police with enhanced power of interrogation, which was often abused as a harassment tool.

What does the 2019 amendment say?
The recent changes proposed by the Home Minister Amit Shah, which were passed in the Lok Sabha owning to heavy NDA majority and smooth relations in Rajya Sabha, allowed the interference of National Investigation Agency (NIA) to mess with the federal system, and most importantly declare any ‘individual’ as opposed to what was ‘organisation’ as ‘terrorist.’ This too was passed sans the scrutiny of the select committee.

Who are the categorically individual terrorists?

The Home Minister made it very clear that individuals who participate, fund, or engage in raising funds for terrorist activities, shall be treated along the lines of this act.

Most importantly he said, “those are terorists who attempt to plant terrorist literature and terorist theory in the minds of the young, guns do not give rise to terrorism, the root of it is the propaganda that is done to spread it.”

The Problematic Aspects

At no point does the law define what is terrorist literature and theory, for all one may have a copy of The Communist Manifesto and the Centre can use that as evidence.

Also what is the urgent need of the government to go after individuals specifically, when under chapter four of the same act provides for the accused to be prosecuted and punished if found guilty by the courts? Perhaps it’s that ‘if’ they want to win over, by curtailing a person’s right to get bail, or proper redressal. On average 75% cases under UAPA ended in acquittal over three years ending 2016 as per Business Standards’ analysis of NCRB data. It only raises skepticism if the Centre is trying to overstep this trend by removing the redressal system all and for once.

Who all are booked under this so far?
Jaish-e-Mohammad founder Masoor Azhar, Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed, Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and underworld don Dawood Ibrahim. However, individuals with no organisation backing who were arrested post the amendment included Kashmiri photojournalist Masrat Jahan, Kashmiri journalist Gowhar Geelani, peasant leader Akhil Gogoi, student leaders, Meeran Haider, Safoora Zargar and Umar Kahlid.

Conclusion

There’s scope of some appeal in this contentious law which would take minimum 100 days and maximum uncertain days, for the heeding to go through the Home Ministry which itself labelled the accused as terrorist in the first place, and review committee, until then, one is a terrorist until proven otherwise, without grant to bail, or lawyer, and it’s all because the State with enhanced centralised power in a democracy simply believed so without any evidence.

Featured Image Credits: The Quint

Umaima Khanam

[email protected]