In advertisements published in at least three local dailies in Kashmir on December 12, the Jammu and Kashmir Police have warned social media users of cases under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Carried on the front page of the newspapers, they warn social media users “supporting and promoting terror is as grave as the actual act of terror”. The advertisements appeared a day before militants attacked a police vehicle in Srinagar, injuring 12 and killing at least two policemen.

The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, commonly described as an anti-terror law, gives absolute power to the Centre to deem an activity as unlawful by way of an Official Gazette. Under the law, investigative agencies may get 180 days to probe a case, compared to 60 to 90 days under ordinary criminal law. Which means that for certain offences, the accused is eligible to apply for bail only after six months.

In the advertisement, the police have cited three examples of social media posts, which they claimed either promoted violence or acted as agents of terrorist handlers or were threat messages. The first example shows the screenshot of a post urging all village/mohalla/ town committees to ensure that “not a single non-local lives in their areas”. This is followed by the screenshot of a report about a Bihari vendor and a labourer from Uttar Pradesh being shot dead in Kashmir. “It is not normal to promote violence”, the advertisement says.

The second example appears to show a screenshot of WhatsApp messages where one person seems to be identifying someone in a picture. “It is not normal to act as information agents of terrorist handlers in Pakistan and help them kill your neighbour and colleagues”, runs the caption in the advertisement.

The third example features the screenshot of a statement released by the United Liberation Front of Jammu and Kashmir, a militant group, on the killing of a policeman in Srinagar, warning other policemen that they would face similar violence if they did not resign from their jobs. A news report on the policeman’s killing is also featured in the advertisement, along with the caption “It is not normal either to post or forward threat messages”.

India, over the last few years, has seen an increase in the number of UAPA cases against critics of the government. The law is meant to combat terrorism but it has been used against many other activities.

The latest to be booked under UAPA in Kashmir is human rights activist Khurram Parvez. He was arrested by the National Investigation Agency on November 23. He has been accused of criminal conspiracy and waging war against the government.

Parvez is associated with the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, a union of non-profit campaign and advocacy organisations in Srinagar.

In October, the police in Jammu and Kashmir charged the students and staff of two medical colleges under UAPA for reportedly cheering for Pakistan for winning a cricket match against India.

UAPA has also been used against activists and academicians accused of plotting caste violence in a village near Pune in 2018. Thirteen of them remain jailed in Maharashtra.

What is UAPA

The Act defines an unlawful activity as any action that is taken by an individual or association, “whether by committing an act or by words, either spoken or written or by signs or by visible representation or otherwise”, which disclaims, questions, disrupts or is intended to disrupt the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India, causes or is intended to cause disaffection against India and which is intended or supports any claim to bring about the cession or secession of a part of the territory of India.

The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act was first passed on December 30, 1967. The original Act dealt with “unlawful” acts related to secession, the anti-terror provisions were added in 2004.

Till July 2019, an officer not below the rank of deputy superintendent of police or equivalent was competent to investigate the offences under UAPA. However, after Lok Sabha passed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019, empowered officers with the rank of inspectors and above to do the same.