Human rights organisation People’s Union of Civil Liberties on Saturday demanded the withdrawal of prosecution of author Arundhati Roy and former Central University of Kashmir professor Sheikh Showkat Hussain for a speech made 14 years ago.

The actions were “politically motivated, patently unconscionable and vindictive”, said the organisation.

On Friday, Delhi Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena sanctioned the prosecution of Roy and Hussain under section 13 of the anti-terror law that pertains to punishment for advocating, abetting or inciting any unlawful activity. It is punishable by up to seven years of imprisonment.

In October, Saxena had sanctioned the prosecution of Roy and Hussain under three sections of the Indian Penal Code.

The sections pertained to: “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony” (Section 153A), “imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration” (Section 153B), and “intentional insult with intent to provoke a breach of the peace” (Section 505).

The civil society group on Saturday said that Saxena’s sanction for prosecuting Roy and Husain under the Indian Penal Code sections is hit by Section 468 of the Code of Criminal Procedure that bars courts from taking cognisance of cases after a delay of three years when the offences carry a maximum sentence of 3 years.

“It seems plausible that the LG’s [Lieutenant Governor’s] sanction to prosecute for offences under section 13 UAPA, after a gap of fourteen years is to get over this legal hurdle,” the People’s Union of Civil Liberties said.

Roy and Hussain were booked based on a complaint filed on October 28, 2010, by Sushil Pandit, identified as a social activist from Kashmir.

Pandit had alleged that various speakers delivered provocative speeches on October 21, 2010, at a conference organised by the Committee for Release of Political Prisoners under the banner of “Azadi - The only Way”.

He stated that the issues discussed at the conference pertained to the “separation of Kashmir from India”, which could jeopardise public peace and harmony.

On Saturday, the People’s Union of Civil Liberties said that it was “shameful” that a first information report was registered for a speech that did not incite or provoke any form of violence. The organisation said that it is even more reprehensible that Saxena has granted sanction to prosecute Roy and Hussain nearly 14 years after the speeches were made.

“Prima facie, it does not flow out of any concern for national security or national interest, but seeks to deploy the UAPA as a tool to serve one’s political masters,” it said.

It added: “We condemn this knee jerk reaction to grant sanction to prosecute an alleged offence committed almost fourteen years ago as nothing other than an attempt by the administration to intimidate and browbeat courageous writer and thinkers who dare to speak truth to power.”

The organisation also demanded the repeal of the anti-terror law “rife with unconstitutional implications”, it said.

Under the stringent provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, investigation agencies get 180 days to probe a case, as against 60-90 days under ordinary criminal law. This means an accused can apply for bail only after six months.

After an amendment to the law in 2019 by the Bharatiya Janata Party government, the authorities have the power to designate individuals as “terrorists”, while previously there were provisions only to classify groups as “terrorist organisations”.

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