Terrorist Until Proven Otherwise: New Amendment To UAPA Probably Most Draconian Ever
Earlier, the designation "terrorist" that was reserved for convicts would now apply to individuals accused of or suspected to be involved in terror activities.
On July 24, the Lok Sabha passed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019. For more reasons than one, this Bill is worrisome. As per a report in The Indian Express, the following amendments were made to the law:
1) The burden of proving that one is not a terrorist will be on the individual who is designated a “terrorist” by the central government under the amended Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 (UAPA).
2) Earlier, the designation “terrorist” that was reserved for convicts would now apply to individuals accused of or suspected to be involved in terror activities.
3) The Centre can now designate not just organisations but also individuals as terrorists, if they are found committing, preparing for, promoting or involved in acts of terror. The amendment Bill replaced “organisations” with “organisations/individuals” in Sections 35-38, which deal with designation as terrorists.
4) The designation is to be notified by the government in the official gazette.
5) The law does not require any other offences to be filed against the individual to declare him/her a terrorist.
6) The law does not specify any process for the designation.
7) To not be designated as a terrorist, an individual can make an application to the central government. If the application is rejected, the person can seek a review by a special committee set up by the government.
8) The law does not prescribe a time limit for the government to set up special committees or a process for the committee to decide the application.
9) It also empowers the director-general of National Investigation Agency (NIA) to order the attachment of properties believed to be proceeds of terrorist activities or intended for such use, irrespective of where the property is situated in India.
Why are these amendments worrisome? For one, it shifts the burden of proof from the accuser to the accused. A designated “terrorist” having to prove his innocence flies in the face of jurisprudence.
Trinamool Congress parliamentarian Mahua Moitra said that the amendment was against the federal structure of the country. “Features of the bill are anti-people and anti-Constitution… it is a very dangerous act,” she added.
This amendment will further empower the state to intimidate dissidents, something that the UAPA is already used for. Per its definition, UAPA does not arrest citizens for committing a crime. It does so to prevent them from doing so.
What constitutes an “unlawful activity”? Just about any action that either “disclaims, questions, disrupts or is intended to disrupt the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India” or causes or is intended to cause “disaffection against India”. Left intentionally vague, these words empower the state to justify subduing one’s fundamental rights in the name of national security.
The UAPA has a track record of being used to suppress dissenting voices. One has only to look back a little and see how activists were arrested and called “Urban Maoists”. In fact, even Home Minister Amit Shah in his speech in the lower house indicated an intent to abuse this law. He had said, “In the name of ideology, some people promote urban Maoism. We have no sympathy for them.”