Petition filed in SC against UAPA Act

‘State can label anyone a terrorist’

August 18, 2019 03:15 am | Updated 03:15 am IST - NEW DELHI

Image for representation purpose only.

Image for representation purpose only.

The government’s decision to give itself discretionary powers to amend the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and declare anyone a terrorist has been questioned in the Supreme Court.

A petition, moved by Delhi resident Sajal Awasthi on Saturday, said the amended law allowed the state to encroach upon the fundamental rights of dignity, free speech, dissent and reputation. It argued that the UAPA Amendment Act, 2019, conferred upon the Centre “discretionary, unfettered and unbound powers” to declare a person a terrorist. The law could be used by the state to bring disrepute to a person, and even worse, rob him or her of liberty. The heavy burden to prove the state machinery wrong rested with the person, it said.

“The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2019, seeks to substantially modify Chapter VI of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, and Sections 35 and 36 therein. The new Section 35 empowers the Central government to categorise any individual as a ‘terrorist’ and add the name of such a person to Schedule 4 of the Act,” Mr. Awasthi said.

Against free speech

The petition said the right to reputation is an intrinsic part of the fundamental right to life with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution, and tagging an individual as a “terrorist” even before the commencement of trial or application of judicial mind does not amount to compliance with the “procedure established by law”.

“The right of dissent is a part and parcel of the fundamental right to free speech and expression and, therefore, cannot be abridged under any circumstances except for [those] mentioned in Article 19 (2). The UAPA, 2019, empowers the government, under the garb of curbing terrorism, to impose an indirect restriction on the right of dissent, which is detrimental to our developing democratic society,” the petition said. Instead of preserving the dignity of an individual, the government was trying to encroach upon it, it said.

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