The stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act should not be misused for “quelling dissent”, Supreme Court judge Justice DY Chandrachud said on Monday, NDTV reported.

Under the UAPA, investigative agencies get 180 days to probe a case, compared to 60-90 days under ordinary criminal law. This means an accused is eligible to apply for bail only after six months.

Lawyers have said the police in India are frequently using the anti-terrorism law as it enables them to detain the accused for longer periods of time without a trial. Lawyers see this as part of police efforts to stifle peaceful dissent.

Addressing an event on the legal ties between India and the United States, Chandrachud said, “Criminal law, including anti-terror legislation, should not be misused for quelling dissent or harassment to citizens. As I noted in my judgement in Arnab Goswami vs the State, our courts must ensure that they continue to remain the first line of defence against the deprivation of liberty of citizens.”

In November, a bench comprising Chandrachud and Justice Indira Banerjee had granted bail to Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami in a 2018 case of abetment to suicide. “Deprivation of liberty even for a single day is one day too many,” the court had said in its order. “We must always be mindful of the deeper systemic implications of our decisions.”

During Monday’s event, Chandrachud again called on judges to protect the personal liberty of citizens. “India, being the oldest and largest democracy, represents ideals of multicultural, pluralist society where their constitutions are focused on a deep commitment and respect for human rights,” he said.

UAPA cases

His comments came a week after 84-year-old tribal rights activist Stan Swamy died in custody. He was was denied bail repeatedly, despite suffering from Parkinson’s disease and later Covid-19. The Jesuit priest was detained under the anti-terrorism law in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence case without any reliable evidence.

Fourteen of the people accused in the case also remain in prison in Maharashtra, charged under the UAPA for allegedly conspiring to set off caste violence in a village near Pune in 2018.

On July 2, peasants’ rights activist and Assam MLA Akhil Gogoi was released from jail after 1.5 years. A special National Investigation Agency court cleared him in one of the cases filed against him under the UAPA in connection with anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests in Assam.

In June, student activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha were released on bail. They had participated in protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. The police alleged that they were part of a conspiracy to organise the North East Delhi violence and charged them under the UAPA.

In March, reported about an assistant professor who was arrested by the Jammu and Kashmir police in cases involving UAPA charges. The police claimed he had been evading arrest since 2018. But official documents showed he had regularly attended work, including handling the responsibility of running a coronavirus quarantine centre in the government college where he was posted. His family said the cases under UAPA were an outcome of his activism – he had exposed corruption by officials and raised concerns over land encroachment by the Indian Army.

In another case, a Kashmiri man was acquitted 11 years after the Gujarat Police arrested him on terror charges.

Also read:

  1. ‘For anything and everything’: UAPA cases are rising in Kashmir
  2. Granting bail to activists, Delhi HC exposes abuse of UAPA – but flaws inherent in the law remain