Recently, the judgment of the Delhi High Court granted the bail to three activists, who have been in jail for over a year without trial, for their alleged role in the 2020 Delhi riots. The judgment assumes significance because the charges were under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), 1967. UAPA is criticized by the civil society as antithetical to constitutional freedom to dissent, rule of law and fair trial. The Delhi high court judgement is a step in the right direction, but there are many issues associated with the UAPA.
The UAPA has been amended on multiple occasions to incorporate the changing techniques of terrorism, from shifting the burden of proof to making extra-territorial arrests. The most recent amendment that came was the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2019 (UAPA, 2019) which dealt with expanding the definition of “terrorist” to include individuals under Section 35 and 36 of Chapter VI of the Act. It allows the DG of NIA seizure of property from proceeds of terrorism under Section 25 and the powers of officers with the rank of inspectors and above to investigate cases under UAPA Section 43.
UAPA being a piece ofsecurity legislation allows the government to arrest the citizens that might commit crimes mentioned under it. It is problematic legislation for various reasons. Firstly, it does not allow dissent. It criminalizes mere thoughts and political protests that cause “disaffection” with the state. It is an assault of citizens’ right to expression which is also a collective right of groups and unions to disseminate their views and UAPA majorly targets this right. Secondly, it can simply be used to bypass fundamental rights and procedures. For instance, those arrested under UAPA can be incarcerated up to 180 days without a charge sheet being filed.