Less than 3% of the arrests made under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act between 2015 and 2020 have resulted in convictions, the People’s Union of Civil Liberties said in a draft report on Friday.

Out of 8,371 persons arrested under the stringent law, only 235 were convicted in the five-year period, the report showed, citing data from the National Crime Record Bureau.

The high rate of acquittal (97.2%) showed that prosecution under UAPA lack merit in huge majority of the cases, the People’s Union of Civil Liberties observed in its draft report titled “UAPA: Criminalising Dissent and State Terror”.

The report also questioned the National Crime Record Bureau’s methodology of keeping records. The annual NCRB figures on number of persons acquitted or convicted under UAPA refer to cases registered in previous years and not to cases filed in the respective years alone, the report observed.

Since UAPA trials take three to five years to complete, the NCRB data is often insufficient to give the entire picture, according to the report. As a result, UAPA conviction rate between 2015 and 2020, on the basis of number of cases is 27.57%. But it drops to 2.8%, when calculated on the basis of arrests made.

The report also noted that once arrested under UAPA, it usually takes long for a person to get bail, if at all the relief is granted.

Citing data from the Union government, the report noted that only 1,080 out of the 4,690 persons arrested under UAPA between 2018 and 2020, got bail.

(Source: PUCL)
Persons who got bail after being arrested under UAPA

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Loose definition of ‘terrorist act’

The report noted that the loose definition of “terrorist act” under UAPA has made the provision a “draconian and undemocratic one”.

Under the law, “terrorist act” has been defined as “an act intended to disrupt law and order, public order or endanger the unity, integrity and security of the State or to spread terror in the minds of sections of people”.

“However, in reality, by giving sweeping powers to the police, they have been used to criminalise political dissenters and those questioning state policy,” the report noted.

The People’s Union of Civil Liberties also pointed to the lack of provision that makes police officers accountable for violating the valuable constitutional rights of arrested persons.

Since Indian law fails to recognise the “Command Responsibility” – a chain of officers in the police hierarchy responsible for investigating the case – it has emboldened the officers to misuse their powers, the report added.

Also read: As the police reach increasingly for draconian UAPA, are the courts pushing back?

Section 18 gives arbitrary power to the police

Section 18 of the UAPA, which deals with abetment of a terrorist act or punishment of being involved in a conspiracy, has been invoked frequently, the report noted.

“Whoever conspires or attempts to commit or advocates, abets, advises or incites, directs or knowingly facilitates the commission of, a terrorist act or any act preparatory to the commission of a terrorist act shall be punishable with imprisonment which is not less than 5 years which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

— Section 18 of UAPA

“Such overboard, sweeping and loosely worded provisions obviously permits arbitrary use of its provision to rope in anyone the police wants to implicate in any case,” the report stated.

It noted that thousands of persons had been implicated in conspiracy under Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002. It prompted the Supreme Court in 1996 to come up with a classification of undertrials under TADA.

“This was based on the specific role allegedly played by each individual person in the crime alleged against them, so that only those classified to be ‘hard core’ alone were to be kept in jail as undertrials and others could be released on bail,” it said.

Such a criterion is also needed for UAPA, the People’s Union of Civil Liberties observed.

Correction: This story initially did not clarify on Friday that the study is a preliminary report by The People’s Union of Civil Liberties.