What is UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act)?
The Government of India enacted the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 to prevent terrorism activities to protect the sovereignty and integrity of the country. This article will discuss What is UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) and the application, limitations, and controversies of the same.
India was engaged in an external war with China in 1962. But at that time India was disturbed internally too. C N Annadurai from Tamil Nadu, the political party founder, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam was demanding a separate Tamil country. India was literally in dire straits due to double-sided disturbances. That was the time when the lawmakers conceptualized to combat such internal unlawful activities.
The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act is the output of the recommendations of the National Integration Council. The UAPA came into existence by the 16th Amendment Act, 1963. The law was basically introduced to tackle a wide range of domestic disturbances by enforcing restrictions on the Fundamental Rights of citizens of India.
UAPA basically restricts three Fundamental Rights:
- Freedom of Speech and expression.
- Right to assemble peacefully and without arms.
- Right to form associations or unions.
- Unlawful Activities Prevention Act is applicable across the entire country
- Any Indian or foreign national charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act is liable for punishment.
- Place (Outside or inside India) of the commitment of crime or offence does not come into consideration under UAPA.
- Persons in the service of the Government are also in the radius of UAPA.
- Persons on ships and aircraft, registered in India are also under the ambit of this act.
- UAPA applies to any combination or body of individuals.
If an individual, organization, or body intends to bring a cession or secession of a part of the territory of India or executes any step to pose a threat to the sovereignty and integrity of India, then the individual or body will be involved in Unlawful Activity.
Chronology National Security Laws in India
- Preventive Detention Act 1950-1969
- Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958
- Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967
- Maintenance of Internal Security Act, 1971-1977
- Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Preventive Act, 1985-1995
- Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2001-2004
The amendments in UAPA were introduced in 2004. Thereafter, UAPA passed through several amendments in 2008, 2012, and most recently in 2019.
- 2004 Amendments was done in the aftermath of the scrapping of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
- A wide range of terrorist activities was included in the 2008 amendments due to the series of bombings in 2006-2008.
- 2012 Amendment enabled UAPA with rigorous enforcement and the range was increased as the companies, NGOs, and intergovernmental organizations and a list of bodies were added under UAPA surveillance.
It is to be noted that several modifications have been made over the years, which made UAPA more strict in the process.
When could an Individual or Organisation be charged under UAPA 2019 amendments?
There are three conditions:
- If an Individual or Organisation takes part or commits any terror activities.
- If an Individual or Organisation advocates or cites unlawful activities.
- If an Individual or Organisation provides any means of help to such unlawful activities.
The recent amendment in UAPA in 2019 sparked much controversy as it gives the central government a supreme power to declare anyone terrorist‘ on any ground of opposition by using fabricated pieces of evidence. It could come out as an instrument of the state-sanctioned programme of suppression on anyone who opposes the government.
We could witness another plot of misuse of UAPA. Police used section 13 of UAPA to charge many individuals who were trying to access social media through VPN’s to bypass the internet ban imposed by the government when it invoked Article 370.
There are too many examples to mention. But the UAPA amendments become more significant in the context of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019.
Why is Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 2019 so controversial?
- Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 2019 denies the descent of the citizens. It empowers to criminalize anyone by assaulting citizens’ right to expression.
- UAPA completely bypass fundamental rights and related procedures as the charged person would be detained for 180 days and beyond without a charge sheet being filed. It thus directly goes against Article 21 of the constitution.
- It empowers the government to proceed through closed-door hearings in special courts.
- The government can even use secret witnesses against the charged person or organization.
- Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 2019 also empowers the parliament of India to restrict the rights and freedoms of citizens to protect ‘the sovereignty and integrity of India’.
- The definition of terrorism has been expanded under Section 35 and 36 of Chapter VI. It allows NIA to seize the property of charged Individual or Organization under Section 25 and empowers to investigate cases under UAPA Section 43.
- UAPA Act can now designate an individual as a terrorist and add the person to 4th Schedule of UAPA. The person can appeal to denotify the name from the 4th Schedule. But here is the controversial part. The person has to appeal to the government for denotification. A review committee will be set up to look into the appeal. Hence the process removes the basic institutional mechanism for judicial review.
There should be a perfect balance in the creation of a safe and sound society by proving security and maintaining citizen’s rights. Some experts and activists are protesting as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, amendment 2019 would be snatching fundamental rights of a citizen in the pursuit of a safe Nation. They are questioning how can a Nation remain safe if its right to speech is taken away? It also denies the judicial principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On the other hand, this modified form of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act would restrict free and unbiased journalism. The plight of Indian journalism already touched the bottom line as India is ranked at 142 on the World Press Freedom Index 2020. Thus UAPA is structured to destructure the fourth estate, the pillar of democracy.
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