Legal experts Karuna Nundy and Mihir Desai joined Kashmiri journalist Anuradha Bhasin and human rights activist Harsh Mander to explain why we should all be concerned about the recent spate of UAPA charges against journalists, anti-CAA protesters.
In the last few days, Kashmiri journalists like Masrat Zahra and Gowhar Geelani, as well as anti-CAA protesters such as Umar Khalid, Meenan Haider, and Safoora Zargar (on the pretext their protests instigated the Delhi riots in February), have been booked by the police under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 – the UAPA.
What Makes the UAPA Draconian?
Human rights lawyer, Mihir Desai noted, “The whole purpose of UAPA is to keep people confined for as long as possible. This is not the misuse of the law, this is the use of the law.”
He added, “It is very difficult to stop anyone from going to prison, like we saw in the case of Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha. And once someone is inside, it is very difficult to get out.” Both Teltumbde, who is represented by Desai, and Navlakha have been charged with UAPA in the Bhima Koregaon case.
Supreme Court advocate Karuna Nundy too called UAPA “one of the most draconian laws in India.” She said, “The way the UAPA is itself is a problem because it is overbroad.”
‘The Message Sent Through These UAPA Cases is Chilling’
Ex-IAS officer and human rights activist, Harsh Mander said, “There is a very clear message being sent to those participating in any anti-CAA protests. They are trying to portray the protests as subversive, anti national and violent. By this, the government is not just absolving themselves of the discriminatory Citizenship law but also of the incessant hate speeches that were made right up to the Delhi elections which finally resulted in the violence. Why has there no action been taken against Anurag Thakur and Kapil Mishra?”
Commenting on the hate speech FIR filed against him, he said, “They took a portion of my speech out of context and charged me of delivering hate speech.”
Mander added, “The government is arresting people with UAPA charge during a lockdown when it is very difficult to arrange for a lawyer or mobilise any kind of support.”
‘Creating an Atmosphere of Fear’
Executive Editor of Kashmir Times, Anuradha Bhasin said, “Since 5 August 2019 when Article 370 was abrogated, there has been a sense of fear and self-censorship among local journalists while criticising the government. Now, with at least two journalists being slapped with UAPA, journalists in the valley are scared that they may be the next target.”