Accused guilty unless proven innocent is new norm, says activist Gautam Navlakha before surrender

Navlakhal lashed out at the manner in which evidence is gathered, saying ‘draconian’ provisions of UAPA are not accompanied by stricter procedures, so that jail becomes the norm, and bail an exception

Human Rights activist Goutam Navalakha and eminent writer and social activist Arundhati Roy 
Human Rights activist Goutam Navalakha and eminent writer and social activist Arundhati Roy
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NH Web Desk

In an open letter released hours before his surrender to the National Investigation Agency on Tuesday, activist Gautam Navlakha assailed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) under which he was charged by Pune Police for their alleged Maoist links and other charges following the violence at Bhima Koregaon village near Pune on January 1, 2018, including plotting to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi

“Such Acts turn the normal jurisprudence upside down. No longer is it the axiom that ‘a person is innocent unless proven guilty’. In fact, under such Acts, ‘an accused is guilty unless proven innocent’,” he wrote.

He also criticised the manner in which evidence is gathered and submitted, saying the “draconian” provisions of UAPA are not accompanied by stricter procedures.

“Under this double whammy, jail becomes the norm, and bail an exception,” he added.

He hoped for a “speedy and fair trial”, adding, “This alone will enable me to clear my name, and walk free,”

Nine of the activists and lawyers allegedly involved in the conspiracy have been in jail since 2018. Navlakha and writer and activist Anand Teltumbde were ordered by the Supreme Court to surrender on Tuesday.

On Monday, Teltumbde wrote an open letter to his fellow Indians explaining that he could not hope to fight the state propaganda against him and his fellow accused.


Here is the full text of Gautam Navlakha’s letter:

As I prepare to leave to surrender before the NIA headquarters in Delhi, I am glad that Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Indira Banerjee gave me another week of freedom when they passed the order on April 8, 2020. A week of freedom means a lot in my condition, even in the age of lockdown. Their order resolved the predicament I encountered in complying with the March 16 order of the apex court, which obliged me to surrender by April 6 before the NIA, Mumbai.

The lockdown that followed prevented me from travelling. Also there was no direction from NIA (Mumbai) regarding what | should do under the circumstances. I know now that I have to surrender myself to the NIA Head quarters in Delhi.

The Indian Prime Minister has likened the challenge posed by Covid19 pandemic to a state of “national emergency”. Meanwhile the apex court itself recently intervened in the matter of jail conditions, and issued guidelines to the authorities regarding the overcrowding of jail inmates and the threat posed to the prisoners and detenues, jail staff and other personnel assigned jail duties.

This concern remains although no case of Covid19 infection has come from any jail so far, somewhat reassuring for me. However, I am affected by the fear that my near and dear ones harbour about my captivity amidst Covid19.

I cannot help but feel disappointed that the terse order of the Supreme Court on April 8th had no reference to the Covid19 pandemic, which has overtaken the world, including all of us in India.

However, I can now begin to face the actual legal process, which accompanies cases where provisions of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act are invoked. Such Acts turn the normal jurisprudence upside down. No longer is it the axiom that “a person is innocent unless proven guilty’. In fact, under such Acts, “an accused is guilty unless proven innocent”, Draconian provisions of UAPA are not accompanied by stricter procedures regarding evidence, especially electronic, considering the stringent punishment provided for under the Act; the procedures, which otherwise provide tighter rules regarding evidence, are instead made elastic, Under this double whammy, jail becomes the norm, and bail an exception. In this Kafkaesque domain, process itself becomes punishment.


My hope rests on a speedy and fair trial for myself and all my fellow co-accused. This alone will enable me to clear my name, and walk free, having also used the time in jail to rid myself of acquired habits.

Until then,

“Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom
‘Cause all I ever have
Redemption songs
Redemption songs.
These songs of Freedom......” (Bob Marley)

--Gautam Navlakha

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