Prominent Activists, Leaders Up in Arms Against UAPA Amendment Bill

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Illustration: Groundxero

Abdul Bari Masoud | Caravan Daily

NEW DELHI — Prominent political, social leaders and human rights defenders on Wednesday condemned the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019 that seeks to tag individuals as ‘terrorist’. The bill was introduced amid strong protest from the opposition benches in the Lok Sabha on Monday as the Opposition MPs termed the bill as draconian as in the name of fighting terror fundamental rights of an individual cannot be ignored.

Besides, the UAPA Bill, the union government also tabled the National Investigation Agency (Amendment), Bill 2019 that gives more teeth to the NIA in dealing with terror cases. Defending the bills, the Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy, who introduced the bill on behalf of Home Minister Amit Shah, said when the United Nations can name Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief Hafiz Saeed as a terrorist, why can’t India do the same with such people.

Opposing the bill, CPI (M) Polit Bureau member, Brinda Karat said the CPI (M) did not support both the bills seeking to give more teeth to security agencies. Speaking to Caravan Daily, Karat said the Left front is also against the proposed amendments to the Indian Forest Act, 1927 who wrote a letter to the concerned minister asking him to withdraw this.

As far as UAPA is concerned the declaration of an individual as terrorist requires stringent conditions otherwise it is liable to grave misuse in its present form, she said. On NIA amendment, the senior communist leader said giving NIA more powers for searches and seizures without informing state agencies is an encroachment on the federal structure of the country.

Echoing similar sentiments, Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) member P.K. Kunhalikutty opposed the NIA Bill that seeks to strengthen the agency by giving it powers to probe terror attacks targeting Indians and Indian interests abroad.

The league MP made a strong suggestion that when the government was widening the powers of investigating agencies, there should be another set of measures or provisions to ensure that the powers were not misused.

While activists also demanded that the UAPA should be repealed arguing that the erstwhile draconian laws like TADA and POTA, the present anti-terror law has been also widely misused against some particular religious groups.

A C Michael, former member of Delhi Minorities Commission, said the latest proposal to further enhance powers of police forces under UAPA is nothing but a tool to arm-twist political opponents of the present dispensation.

“You may recall TADA was repealed for an individual under pressure from a most powerful politician of that time and who was known for seeking votes in the name of religion. Even today his party is an ally of NDA,” Michael told Caravan Daily who is also national coordinator of United Christian Council.

He alleged that every government is guilty of misusing these laws in the past as there are “thousands of youth of the particular community still languishing in jails” under these draconian laws.

As per an estimate, around two thousands Muslim youths have been implicated using the draconian provisions of UAPA mostly from MP, UP, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Bihar.

Demanding the repeal of UAPA, he said POTA was brought in during NDA-1, which too was repealed in 2004 and UAPA, which is as old as present Home Minister’s age has gone through many amendments through various governments.

As it was feared by civil right organisations from the very beginning, law was widely misused predominantly to target minorities, Dalits, Human Rights Activists and People with dissenting voices. The latest amendment to Schedule 4 of the UAPA will allow the NIA to designate an individual suspected to have terror links as a terrorist. As of now, only organisations are designated as ‘terrorist organizations’.

Demanding no further amendments in the UAPA, Popular Front of India, chairman, E Abubacker said this law has been so far misused by successive governments to ban opposing organizations after putting the terrorist tag on them.

“Now due to the proposed amendment the scope of this threat has been extended to even on an individual whom the government considers a threat to it. Such an amendment can lead to all kinds of misuse.”

Abubacker underlined that the 2008 amendment of UAPA has already made it highly controversial. It provided the governments ample powers to act against citizen’s fundamental rights.

“Several cases have been reported in recent years that innocents implicated in false cases had to spend years behind bars because of the provisions of UAPA charged on them and to be acquitted later.”

Echoing the similar sentiments, Kamal Faruqi, member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board said in the prevailing political atmosphere, these amendments are frightening.  Talking to Caravan Daily, he feared the increase in rights violation cases in the coming days. Faruqui, who is a former chairman of Delhi Minorities Commission, was in the forefront for repealing the UAPA movement during the previous UPA government. We will seek the help of opposition MPs in thwarting the government’s move to make these laws more draconian, he added.

Rights group, National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations (NCHRO) said the proposed amendment seeking to designate an individual as terrorist violates the Art 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Speaking to Caravan Daily, NCHRO vice chairman K.P. Mohamed Shareef demanded that the UAPA should be repealed as it is being used as a repressive tool against the oppressed by the ruling class.

Noted socialist leader Prof Anand Kumar questioned the need of making the existing laws further stringent. This government has come to power with a huge majority but it still wants to make tough laws, he said adding that it will weaken the democracy.

All leaders and activists urged opposition leaders and rights activists to convince the parliament members to put pressure on the Modi government to refrain from bringing more draconian amendments in these laws.

It is puzzling that no prominent rights groups like PUCl, PUDR reacted on the bills. When this correspondent contacted a noted activist to elicit his reaction on both the bills, he tried to dodge the question saying he would reply after two days as he did not go through these proposed amendments. Interestingly, he also heads a rights organisation.

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