Don’t twist socio-political concerns into terrorist act, PUCL on UAPA charges against accused in Parliament breach case

The imposition of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 against the six arrested in the Parliament breach case is nothing but an abuse of the legal process, says the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.

LEADING civil liberties non-governmental organisation, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), has demanded the withdrawal of all conspiracy charges against the six persons arrested in the Parliament security breach case.

On December 13, the anniversary of the 2001 Parliament attack, two of the six accused, Sagar Sharma and Manoranjan D., entered the Parliament on a pass issued in the name of Bharatiya Janata Party member of Parliament (MPs) from Mysuru Pratap Simha.

From the visitor’s gallery in Lok Sabha in the new Parliament building, the duo jumped over onto the floor of the House, releasing coloured smoke from canisters.

They shouted slogans such as “inquilab zindabad” (long live revolution) and “Bhagat Singh amar rahe” (long live Bhagat Singh).

The duo, along with their accomplices, were reportedly inspired by Bhagat Singh, the famous India revolutionary who, as part of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, threw low-intensity bombs and pamphlets in the Indian Parliament (Central Legislative Assembly) on April 8, 1929.

It is alleged that Sagar, Manoranjan and their accomplices were associated with a social media page ‘Bhagat Singh Fan Club’.

Sagar and Manoranjan were overpowered by some MPs. They were thrashed before being handed over to the police.

While Sagar and Manoranjan were inside, two other accomplices, Amol Shinde and Neelam Devi, sprayed coloured gas and shouted the slogans “tanashahi nahi chalegi” (dictatorship will not prevail) and “Jai Bhim” outside the Parliament premises.

Two more accomplices, Vishal Sharma and Lalit Jha, who were involved in planning the breach, were arrested over the next few days.

The police registered a case under Sections 16 (punishment for terrorist act) and 18 (punishment for conspiracy, etc.) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, (UAPA) 1967 along with Sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 452 ( house trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restrain), 153 (wantonly giving provocation, with intent to cause riot), 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), and 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

In the statement, the PUCL says: “Undoubtedly, what the two youths, Sagar Sharma and Manoranjan, did with assistance from the others does amount to an unprecedented security breach in the newly inaugurated Parliament building and has to be taken seriously from the point of view of the safety and security of parliamentarians.”

However, it notes that implicating them under anti-terrorism legislation is “disturbing” and an “egregious and condemnable misuse of the law”.

The statement notes: “It was widely reported that the main motivation behind the audacious, albeit dangerous act, of the six-member team was to highlight in a sensational manner, the nation-wide problems of unemployment, inequality, atrocities against women, the Manipur violence, authoritarianism and other issues of common social and political concern.”

The PUCL statement reads that behind the actions of these six persons is a ‘harsh reality’ that unemployment issues have been simmering over the last nine years with no meaningful response from the government.

As for October 2023, the overall unemployment rate was 10.05 percent. Whereas, the employment rate last year was 7.33 percent.

The PUCL statement further notes that for an act to be deemed a terrorist act under Section 15 of the UAPA, there must be an intention to “strike terror” or to threaten the “unity and integrity of India”.

The intention must be accompanied by an action in which “bombs, dynamite or other explosive substances or inflammable substances or noxious gases of a hazardous nature are employed which are likely to cause death, loss of life or even economic disruption”.

The PUCL claims that no loss of life or threat of the loss of life or even economic disruption in the intrusion into and disruption of the Parliament were reported.

The statement reads: “The fact that what was released in Parliament was harmless yellow smoke, seems to indicate that the aim of the fans of Bhagat Singh was to ‘make the deaf hear’. The objective seems to have been to draw attention to youth unemployment, authoritarian government and atrocities against women in Manipur.”

Not the only one

The PUCL gave another “egregious” example where it says that the UAPA powers have been misused.

It referred to a case where the Jammu and Kashmir police invoked the UAPA against seven students of Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Kashmir, for allegedly raising anti-India slogans and celebrating the Indian cricket team’s loss in the World Cup 2023 final.

It said: “While the ensuing widespread condemnation of the police action led to the police reportedly dropping the UAPA charges, this incident once again highlights the abandon with which the State uses laws like UAPA.

What permits this continued abuse of laws like UAPA by the executive is the unwillingness of the judiciary to check the abuse at the inception stage of prosecution itself.

There has been a drastic rise in UAPA cases. As per a report of the National Crime Bureau Records, 814 UAPA cases were filed in 2021, while 1,005 cases under the UAPA were filed in 2022.

Of the 24,134 people who were arrested between 2016–20, only 212 were convicted, leaving the rest to languish in prison under the harsh “no bail” doctrine of the UAPA.

In a study by the PUCL, UAPA: Criminalising Dissent and State Terror Study of UAPA Abuse in India, 2009-2022, it was concluded that the conviction rate in UAPA cases is an abysmal 2.8 percent.

The PUCL concludes: “The continued unconstitutional invocation of UAPA is an egregious violation of the right to freedom of speech, assembly and association. The arrest of the six young people is nothing but weaponisation of the UAPA to extinguish these constitutional freedoms.

It recommended that the issues raised by the six persons must be addressed by the government as socio-political concerns and that these substantive concerns should not be twisted into a “terrorist act”.

The Leaflet