The three Delhi High Court orders granting bail to three student activists mark a critical turning point in the application of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). By stipulating a stricter standard for defining acts of terrorism, the high court has indirectly upheld the right to protest guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution and prevent the escalating misuse of this 53-year-old Act to incarcerate citizens who challenge the government’s policies. By the Ministry of Home Affairs’ own data, 2019 saw a 72 per cent jump in arrests under the UAPA over 2015. It is no.....
The three Delhi High Court
orders granting bail to three student activists mark a critical turning point in the application of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). By stipulating a stricter standard for defining acts of terrorism, the high court has indirectly upheld the right to protest guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution and prevent the escalating misuse of this 53-year-old Act to incarcerate citizens who challenge the government’s policies. By the Ministry of Home Affairs’ own data, 2019 saw a 72 per cent jump in arrests under the UAPA over 2015. It is no coincidence that 2019 was the year Jammu & Kashmir’s special status was altered and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed in Parliament, sparking countrywide protests.
The three students had participated in anti-CAA protests, which had caused some main roads to be blocked in Delhi. That is a long way from the Delhi Police’s accusations that they provoked the communal riots that broke out in north Delhi in February last year. By the same yardstick it is unclear why Kapil Mishra of the BJP was not arrested under the same law since his incendiary statements a day before the riots escalated were, at the very least, a clear incitement to violence. An authoritarian regime is likely to view the UAPA as a more effective way of silencing critics than sedition
laws because obtaining bail under this Act is extremely difficult; in an inversion of settled jurisprudence, it requires the accused to demonstrate that the prosecution case is not, prima facie, true. So far, the few bail applications granted in UAPA cases have usually been on grounds of age, illness, or length of trial.
The Delhi High Court’s rulings are crucial because they addressed the critical weaknesses in state agencies’ application of the UAPA laws and for defining an act as “terrorist”. The rulings stated, among other things, that the “extent and reach of terrorist activity must travel beyond the effect of an ordinary crime and must not arise merely by causing disturbance of law and order or even public order”. In other words, shouting slogans against government policy and blocking roads, which is what these students had done, cannot be construed as a terrorist activity. This standard effectively removes a plank on which the state builds its case against dissenters, and it is no surprise that the Delhi Police
have dissembled almost comically. First, it said it required time to verify the addresses of the three, an argument that has been summarily overruled by the sessions court which ordered their release on Thursday.
The police have now submitted a special leave petition in the Supreme Court, appealing against the high court’s ruling on grounds that the judges did not consider the evidence and “the corroborations that revealed a sinister plot of mass-scale riots being hatched by the accused”. It is worth noting that most of this “evidence” comes from the police or protected witnesses, another standard tactic. Taken together with the Supreme Court’s recent pronouncement on sedition
laws, the Delhi High Court’s ruling raises the question of whether these laws should be opened for constitutional review. Certainly, the extreme manner in which they have been applied on Indian citizens who disagree with the state is out of sync with a government that recently sought to burnish its democratic credentials in that most prominent international forum of a G7 meeting.
Business Standard has always strived hard to provide up-to-date information and commentary on developments that are of interest to you and have wider political and economic implications for the country and the world. Your encouragement and constant feedback on how to improve our offering have only made our resolve and commitment to these ideals stronger. Even during these difficult times arising out of Covid-19, we continue to remain committed to keeping you informed and updated with credible news, authoritative views and incisive commentary on topical issues of relevance.
We, however, have a request.
As we battle the economic impact of the pandemic, we need your support even more, so that we can continue to offer you more quality content. Our subscription model has seen an encouraging response from many of you, who have subscribed to our online content. More subscription to our online content can only help us achieve the goals of offering you even better and more relevant content. We believe in free, fair and credible journalism. Your support through more subscriptions can help us practise the journalism to which we are committed.
Support quality journalism and subscribe to Business Standard.