PUCL and 100 organisations demand the repeal of the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act
The deliberations at a three day session organised by PUCL underlined how the UAPA is being used by government authorities in suppressing any voice of dissent
In a session packed with human stories of abuse and misuse of law where activists and commoners were abused, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) began a three-day session on January 20 with over 100 other organisations comprising advocates, activists and others who spoke about the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
The session began by drawing a timeline of the evolution of UAPA since the 1980s, tracing its roots back to Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) to coming around of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (POTA). This helped non-lawyers understand how the UAPA took the shape that it is in today.
The PUCL national general secretary and human rights lawyer Dr V Suresh said that POTA was repealed the morning the government decided to amend the UAPA.
Introducing definitions borrowed from POTA, UAPA suggests that the court may form an opinion based on the material in its broad possibilities. The court is to apply its mind to ascertain whether the accusations against the accused are prima facie true.
A charge sheet usually needs to be filed within 60 to 90 days, depending on the offence. But under the UAPA cases, agencies have 180 days or 6 months to file them.
The conviction rates under UAPA in 2018 shows 68% of the people arrested didn’t have a charge sheet filed. One cannot apply for bail until the charge sheet is filed.
Given the prima facie nature of UAPA, chances are that even if a charge sheet is filed, the accused will find it nearly impossible to get bail. This process can extend up to 10 years before a person can receive bail under the UAPA.
Senior Advocate Mihir Desai, vice president of PUCL, brought up the Bhima Koregaon incident as an example. What was initially investigated by the Pune Police eventually shifted hands to the NIA once the ruling party of the state was different from the one that was at the Centre.
Guneet Kaur spoke of the current investigations against certain people by the NIA during the farmers’ protest. She observed, “With the BJP IT Cell trying to spin their narrative of ‘Khalistani’ involvement and the lack of mainstream media’s coverage of the protests in showing the true side, the NIA investigation seems to be the legal wing in their continuous attempt at narrative deflection.”
The session was moderated by PUCL’s Kavita Srivastava who got various activists as well as victims of UAPA to narrate their experiences. She commented, “It is to do with the culture that is being spread where security agencies and such laws are being used to keep people in control.”
Advocate Madhava Rao Gorrepati from Nizamabad, who is a member of the Human Rights Forum, spoke about the shocking modus operandi of the police team as they arrest people under the law. “The police tries to find evidence in the form of literature, or content in a pen drive to put the alleged accused in jail. Most of the accused are the sole breadwinners of the family and given the impossibility of bail, they choose to not engage as a voice of dissent in fear,” he said.
The session focussed on the state-wise issues starting with Telangana, as K Kranthi Chaitanya from the Civil Liberties Committee of Andhra Pradesh shared the data of the number of members of the tribal community being arrested. In Visakhapatnam alone, more than 450 cases were filed against 150 tribals with the police lodging more than 5-10 cases per person.
As the police seeks evidence as well as alleged accomplices, it tries to evince the presence of various other targeted activists in the area under UAPA. Chaithanya said, “In Machinga Puttur district of Visakhapatnam, 64 persons in a single case were arrested. Among the people arrested were state president Chittu Babu who was accused along with members of the Human Rights Forum, trade unionists, and people from women’s organisations. The motto of the state is to arrest those who are raising a voice to repeal UAPA.” This incident shows how the UAPA can be misused to crush the voice of dissent.
Activist Raghunath Verose underlined the importance of doing away with these draconian laws. He said, “As the law continues to attack people such as activists, well-educated lawyers and professors, this is seen as an attack on critical thinking and freedom.”
Ravi Narla, a victim of UAPA, recollected the day the police raided his house. This coincided with the day Narla was supposed to hold a press conference about the Babri Masjid Case. Narla was accused of organising mass mobilisations post Varavara Rao’s arrest.
Swetcha Prabhakar spoke of her father, D Prabhakar, president of the Kula Unmulan Pareta Samiti who was fighting for the rights of the Dalit community in Vijayawada. In 2005, the police arrested him along with seven others who were going to testify against the ongoing trial of the tribals in Chhattisgarh. They were charged in over 8 cases and dubbed Maoists by the authorities.
Apoorvanand, an academic, spoke of dual issues surrounding the state’s actions. At the heart is the anti-CAA protests coupled with the recent farmers’ protests. He said that reasons such as the deep-rooted desire to malign the nation and conspiracy theories are being used to file FIRs against people who mostly belonged to the Muslim community.
The deliberations were focused and underlined how the UAPA is being used by the government authorities in suppressing any voice of dissent.
(Courtesy: The Leaflet)