Anti-Terror Law Shouldn't Be Misused For Quelling Dissent: Justice Chandrachud

Justice Chandrachud said that courts are first line of defence against deprivation of liberty

2 min read
Hindi Female
Criminal law, including anti-terror legislation, should not be misused for quelling dissent or harassment to citizens

These words were expressed by Supreme Court Judge Justice DY Chandrachud while addressing India-US Joint Summer Conference on July 12. Justice Chandrachud was giving his views under the theme of India-US legal ties.

While referring to his judgment in the Arnab Goswami case, Justice Chandrachud went on to call the judiciary 'first line of defence against the deprivation of liberty'.

Our courts must ensure that they continue to remain the first line of defense against the deprivation of liberty of citizens. Deprivation of liberty for even a single day is one too many. We must always be mindful of the deeper systemic issues of our decisions
Justice DY Chandrachud
Justice Chandrachud further said that the world’s oldest and largest democracy represent these ideals of a multicultural, pluralist society where their constitutions are focused on a deep commitment and respect for human rights.

UAPA: A Tool To Quell Dissent?

Justice Chandrachud's remarks have come just few days after the death of Father Stan Swamy, who died a pretrial prisoner, accused of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

Just four days before Father Stan Swamy's death, on July 01, a Special NIA court acquitted Assam MLA Akhil Gogoi of charges under UAPA and sedition. Gogoi had to spend 17 months in jail for facing anti-terror charges for protests that broke out in Assam in response to new citizenship amendment law

On Tuesday, 15 June, the Delhi High Court granted bail to three Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act accused – Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal, and Asif Iqbal Tanha – in the Delhi riots case.

While granting bail, the court highlighted that there’s a fundamental difference between protests and acts of terror. Even when the protests turn violent, it would prima facie be seen as a 'law and order' issue and not as terrorism. The court even expressed its concern on the growing trend of invoking the UAPA against protesters:

In its anxiety to suppress dissent and in the morbid fear that matters may get out of hand, the State has blurred the line between the constitutionally guaranteed ‘right to protest’ and ‘terrorist activity’. If such blurring gains traction, democracy would be in peril.
Delhi High Court

Decongestion of Prisons Due To COVID-19

During his address, Justice Chandrachud also highlighted the work done by the apex court to decongest prisons during the raging COVID-19 pandemic. He mentioned that the Supreme Court had ordered for the setting up of the high-powered committees to release convicts on bail or parole

The Supreme Court made a similar suggestion for those awaiting trials for offenses carrying a maximum penalty of seven years. When the first wave subsided, those released were re-imprisoned. Given the second wave in May 2021, the Supreme Court, on May 7, 2021, ordered that those released in the first wave of the pandemic were eligible for immediate release and passed orders regarding improvement in sanitary prison conditions, regular Covid testing of inmates, and prison staff.
Justice DY Chandrachud

Justice Chandrachud further said that it was not only important to decongest prisons and prevent them from becoming COVID hotspots, but also to examine why prisons become congested in the first place.

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