Opposition parties call for repeal of UAPA

Catholic nuns hold placards during a protest against the arrest of Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand for his alleged involvement in the Bhima Koregao-Elgar Parishad case, in Secunderabad the twin city of Hyderabad on October 21, 2020   | Photo Credit: AFP

Major Opposition parties have joined forces to demand the repeal of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), charges related to which were slapped against activists in the Bhima Koregaon case.

Condemning the arrest of Stan Swamy, an 83-year-old tribal rights activist, leaders of the Congress, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), Communist Party of India (CPI), Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), emphasised the need for building a strong movement against the gross misuse of harsh laws like the UAPA. Father Swamy was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in Ranchi on October 8 and is currently in Taloja Central Jail.

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) organised a press conference on Wednesday to condemn the role of investigating agencies in carrying out “illegal” arrests, to highlight the humanitarian crisis and misuse of the UAPA to criminalise dissent, and to demand the release of all 16 activists arrested in the case.

V. Suresh, general secretary, PUCL, quoted some figures presented by the Home Ministry before the Parliament, and said, “There has been a steady increase in the number of those arrested under the UAPA — from 999 in 2016 to 1,054 in 2017 to 1,031 in 2018. The conviction rate is less than 25% and even this conviction rate is make-believe as the actual figure is much lower. In almost 43% of cases, the chargesheet has taken a year or two to be filed.”

“There seems to be a threat to the unity and integrity of India where it stands today. Forces are constantly trying to harm the country’s federal structure and Constitutional institutions. The NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government at the Centre is trying to gag people who raise voice against atrocities against Dalits, tribals and weaker sections,” said Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren.

“This is a matter of great concern. Where the country is heading towards? Father Swamy, who has been guiding tribals in far-flung areas of Jharkhand for years, has been arrested. It is very sad that at his age, with health ailments, that he is in jail. We must all demand that Stan Swamy must be released...We all Opposition parties need to ponder over how to save youths from the current regime,” Mr. Soren said.

Senior advocate and vice president of PUCL Mihir Desai spoke about the case and said, “Three chargesheets have been filed and NIA has said the investigation is still going on and more arrests will be done, so bails will not be granted and the trial will not begin. The entire case is based on completely flimsy evidence. They [the prosecution] have relied on four to five witnesses whose names are not mentioned. They have relied upon evidence from computers, which we know is tampered. Ultimately, they will all be acquitted, but imprisonment itself is punishment. Therefore, the UAPA has to be repealed.”

Speaking over a virtual media platform, CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said, “Stan Swamy and Varavara Rao (co-accused) are octogenarians, and most of them [the accused] are above 60 years old and much more vulnerable to COVID. However, there has been no humane approach by the Central government towards them.”

“The UAPA this way cannot exist in the statute book. I would appeal to all political parties and civil society organisations not to see this as an isolated single law issue. We have UAPA, National Security Act and sedition laws. All political parties came together to repeal the POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002). Like POTA, this UAPA must go,” he added.

The senior Left leader said that the larger agenda of the present government was “the establishment of a theocratic and rabidly intolerant, fascist Hindutva Rashtra, which has been their objective for the last one century or so”.

Kanimozhi Karunanidhi, DMK leader, said political parties and civil society organisations must decide if the present arrests should be accepted silently or they should all stand up and fight against it.

“We have to come together, putting aside all our differences, and fight against draconian laws which suppress us, and these laws have to be repealed. We have been reiterating that the present government is using the pandemic as an opportunity to inflict laws on people,” said Ms. Karunanidhi.

CPI secretary D. Raja and former Rajya Sabha member said his party had been opposing the arrest of all Opposition leaders, intellectuals, students and activists. He said, “We have to fight against those trying to mute the voices of Dalits, tribals. Many laws are being used against activists. We need to demand the release of activists like G.N. Saibaba (90% physically disabled, convicted under the UAPA and lodged at Nagpur Central Jail).”

Mr. Raja added, “It is said Left Wing Extremism is trying to topple the government, but what about Right Wing Extremism (RWE)? The RWE is going to redefine the entire Indian nationhood. RWE is set to replace the Constitution. We will continue to oppose UAPA and sedition laws.”

Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor condemned the arrest of Father Swamy, who had spent four decades of his life on working for tribal people. Mr. Tharoor urged the government to release him immediately. “The charges are preposterous and at his age he deserves our respect and support,” he said.

Nationalist Congress Party MP Supriya Sule said it was a matter of great concern that people who have contributed to literature and culture have been arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case, which seemed to be about “dirty political vendetta”. “It is a shame that everytime someone speaks up against the government, he/she is being targeted and attacked. All democratic voices are crushed by the Central government...In the seventies, people experienced Emergency. This is an unannounced Emergency. This is a challenging time. We must raise our voice. We must not leave this task unfinished,” she said.

The PUCL expressed concern that Mr. Swamy, despite his being a patient of Parkinson’s disease and suffering other health problems, was in jail, and noted writer Varavara Rao (80), has been languishing in jail for more than two years. Apart from them, there are five other senior citizens currently incarcerated in the case, and being held without any role in the criminal conspiracy of the Bhima Koregaon violence that happened on January 1, 2018, the PUCL said.

Fr. Dr. Marianus Kujur, Director, Xavier Institute of Social Service, Ranchi; Professor Jean Dreze, eminent economist; Dayamani Barla, tribal rights activist; and Rupali Jadhav of the Kabir Kala Manch also spoke at the event.

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2021 9:44:13 PM |

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