Advocate A. Mohamed Yusuff
The death, in July this year, of Father Stan Swamy, who was a Jesuit priest, tribal rights activist, and an accused in a UAPA case, has shaken the conscience of the country’s criminal justice system. The draconian provisions of a terrifying law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act – UAPA, ensured that the veteran activist doesn’t get basic healthcare during his final days. However, as the UAPA’s ‘target list’ is quite long, new reports are emerging that more undertrials, UAPA-charged prisoners with serious health issues are not getting adequate medical support. Most recently, family of the student activist Atiq-ur-Rehman, who is also a UAPA accused languishing in Mathura district jail, Uttar Pradesh for the past one year in the falsely implicated Hathras case, said the young man is in dire need of advanced medical support that the authorities were consistently denying him.
The stories of Fr. Stan Swamy and Rehman are only tip of a huge iceberg of human right abuses that involve the UAPA, an ‘anti-terror’ law that has now become an effective tool to intimidate and silence the government critics, rather than fighting terrorism.
The latest statistics released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) further disclose us why this law is truly arbitrary and alarming, and why such laws should not have a space in a democratic country.
Trials in 81% Cases Concluded the Accused are Innocent
Out of the 142 cases disposed of by the courts last year, 14 were abated without trial and accused were discharged in 2 cases before commencing the trial. In the remaining 126 cases, for which the trial was completed in 2020, the accused were found guilty only in 27 cases. The courts found the accused innocent in 99 cases, according to the data. It shows that the conviction rate is only 19.01% and the acquittal rate is 81%, four times more than the conviction.
A total of 796 new UAPA cases were filed in the pandemic year of 2020. This number is low, compared to the number of cases registered in the last two years. 1,182 and 1,226 fresh UAPA cases were registered in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
The witch-hunt using UAPA even in the pandemic period exposes the draconian attitude of the investigation agencies.
Majority Cases in J&K, Manipur
Of the 796 UAPA cases booked last year, the Union Territory (UT) of Jammu & Kashmir counted 36 % of those cases, with 287 cases filed there. It is to be noted that these much cases were filed after the abrogation of Art. 370. Manipur came second, with 169 cases.
Jammu & Kashmir and Manipur, two states where several human rights abuses were reported in the past, together made more than 57% of the total UAPA cases registered in the country in 2020.
Other states/UTs where higher number of UAPA cases was reported last year are Jharkhand (86), Assam (76), Uttar Pradesh (72), Bihar (30), Punjab (19), Kerala (18) and Meghalaya (10).
6 cases were registered in Delhi, 4 in Madhya Pradesh, 3 each in Arunachal Pradesh, Chandigarh, Tamil Nadu, 2 each in Haryana, Nagaland, Tripura, and 1 each in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and West Bengal.
Five minors – four boys and one girl – were also booked under this ‘anti-terror’ law, including two J&K children. Assam, Manipur and Punjab also booked one minor each.
Most of the Cases Await Investigation, Trial
Out of the 4,827 UAPA cases to be investigated, 4,101 are still pending probe. This means that the ‘pendency percentage’ of the UAPA cases is 85%.
Notably, the NIA and other investigation agencies are yet to complete their probe in 1,818 UAPA cases registered three or more years ago. In other words, 44% of the UAPA cases, where the investigation is still pending, are older than three years. Additionally, the investigation is pending for more than one year in other 1,395 cases.
Also, more than 94% of the UAPA cases, which came before the courts for trial in 2020, remain inconclusive, according to the NCRB statistics. Out of 2,642 UAPA cases sent for trial, 2,500 are still pending. And even among the cases where the judgment came, only 19.01% ended in conviction.
Among the 2,500 UAPA cases that are still pending trial, 1,904 cases are pending for more than a year (76%). While 353 cases are pending for more than three years, 169 and 79 cases are pending for more than five years and for more than 10 years, respectively.
As of December 2019, the investigation was pending in 4,021 cases; 10 cases were reopened; and newly reported cases in 2020 were 796. Out of 4,827 cases only 398 were sent to the courts for trial and 321 cases were closed by the police itself. Remaining 4,108 cases are pending investigation with the pendency rate of 85.1%.
Of the 321 UAPA cases disposed by the police itself after the investigation 297 cases were closed with the report as “insufficient evidence, or untraced, or no clue”. Additionally, 10 cases turned out to be “false”, and in other 14 cases, it “ended as mistake of fact, or of law, or civil dispute”.
Delay in Filing Charge Sheets, Final Reports
A total of 1,321 persons, including 34 women, were arrested in the UAPA cases in 2020. The arrestees were predominantly young, 92% were 18-45 years old.
Out of the 796 UAPA cases filed in 2020, the charge sheet was submitted in only 126 cases. It was also filed in another 272 cases that were registered in previous years, making the total charge sheets submitted in 2020 as 398.
Of the total 398 charge sheets filed last year, 111 were submitted one year after registration of the case, and other 34 charge sheets were filed in cases older than two years.
The latest data reinforced the fact that the UAPA is problematic for more than one reason. The law, which several rights activists correctly called ‘draconian’, is very likely to continue to wreak havoc in the lives of ordinary Indians, especially of government critics, activists, Muslims, Dalits, Kashmiris and people of north-east.
The above-mentioned data give more reasons to fight the draconian UAPA. It is high time the common masses realised how the UAPA is detrimental to the ordinary citizens; and raised their voice unitedly against it.