Welcoming the Supreme Court’s verdict on the arrest of the five activists in the Bhima-Koregaon case, the civil rights organization People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), reiterated the “obvious flaws" and "possibilities of misuse” in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
In a 2:1 majority judgment, the Supreme Court, on 28 September, declined to set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT), allowing Pune police to go ahead with its probe and further extended the house arrest of the activists for four weeks.
The top court was hearing a plea by historian Romila Thapar and others who sought an independent probe into the arrests and immediate release of the five activists – advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, lawyer and author Arun Ferreira, revolutionary poet Varavara Rao and activists Gautam Navlakha and Vernon Gonsalves – who were arrested on 28 September from across the country and charged under sections of the UAPA for allegedly instigating violence in Bhima-Koregaon protests in January 2018.
Hailing Justice Chandrachud’s dissenting judgment as “heartening”, PUDR, in its statement listed concerns over the “arbitrary” use of the UAPA. It said, “an immediate stop is required to the use of this expansive view of association given in the UAPA, to the provisions to keep accused endlessly in prisons and to halt the arbitrary sway of the powerful.”
‘Definition of Association is Expansive in UAPA’
First, it said, the UAPA’s definition of “association” makes the law prone to being arbitrary and misused. "The UAPA blurs all distinctions for the causes for association and overlooks the fact that association may arise from multiple needs involving the family or the community, religious, cultural or economic,” the statement added, “The UAPA condemns all such association as criminal based on political prejudices of governments in power.”
“Besides lawyers, researchers and political activists, those working in the field of safeguarding human rights are particularly prone to be victims of the abuse of law. They have to necessarily engage with people, organisations and groups that hold opinions, which are at odds with the state or with the governments in power.”PUDR statement
‘UAPA Can Confine People Endlessly in Prisons’
Second, it criticised the draconian procedural provisions of the UAPA which gives virtually unlimited power to the police to arrest and keep people in jail for extended periods of time without bail.
The press release added, “Provision for bail is restricted to the extent of either being non-existent or is extremely difficult to avail, which has ensured that all those accused rot in jails endlessly, sometimes for many years, even to be finally acquitted and declared innocent by the courts.”
‘UAPA a Tool for Character Assassination Without Investigation’
Third, PUDR points out that the application of UAPA also acts as a tool for character assassination which condemns the accused even without investigation. It said, “Selective statements by the police, even more selective anonymous releases to media houses, high-pitched accusations masquerading as facts, leading to custody remand orders by magistrates without even reading the charges or the basis to permit arrest has all become commonplace in the world of UAPA.”