UAPA: When laws turn oppressive
that the conviction rate of those prosecuted under UAPA was as low as 14.5% in 2015 and as high as 49.3% in 2017. The total number of persons arrested in 2018 was 1,421; other relevant data includes those charge-sheeted (853), convicted (35), discharged (23) and acquitted (117). Clearly, the rate of conviction in 2018 was less than 30%. Of those convicted by the trial court, several may well be acquitted by the appellate court, making the rate of conviction abysmally low.
This is proof of the investigating authorities roping in named accused who are clearly not terrorists, making the law and procedures under it oppressive. Many of them are kept in custody for years before acquittal. An indication of the law’s indiscriminate misuse is reflected in the kind of people arrested under UAPA. Some disturbing examples among others are: Akhil Gogoi, a Right to
Information Act activist; Safoora Zargar, a research scholar from Jamia Millia Islamia; Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha, both of whom have done seminal work in protecting India’s most vulnerable communities, namely the Dalits and Adivasis; Masrat Zahra, a 26-year-old internationally-acclaimed photojournalist; Umar Khalid for allegedly instigating the Delhi riots with his speeches at anti-caa rallies; and Gowhar Geelani, a Kashmiri author and journalist, for his social media posts.
The reason why naming individuals is oppressive and violates citizens’ fundamental freedoms is because of the onerous provisions relating to bail. First, those being investigated can be kept in custody for 180 days pending filing of the charge-sheet. Bail is refused if the court, on perusal of the case diary or upon filing of a charge-sheet, is of the opinion that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the accusations against the person are prima facie true. It is the settled position in law that the accused cannot have access to the case diary. As far as the chargesheet is concerned, the act of taking cognisance by the court is based on a prima facie belief that the accusations are true. At that stage, the accused is not heard by the court. This makes the law onerous and offensive, with no hope for the accused to access bail. Trials, too, take long. At the end of 2018, of the 2,008 cases, only 317 were sent to trial. Given the state of the law, an acquittal at the end of the trial means little.
The imbalance between fundamental freedoms and the larger interests of the State is heavily skewed against the citizen. The State uses the law as an instrument of oppression, making democracy its victim.
The State is using UAPA against critics of n CAA and the government