Tuesday, May 30, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Terrorism Bill ‘draconian’
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, May 29 — The government today clarified that there was “no truth” in reports that provisions in the draft Prevention of Terrorism Bill, 2000, could be used to “browbeat the media and extract information.”

However, legal experts termed the provisions of the draft Bill as “draconian” and aimed at curbing freedom of expression.

The Union Home Ministry said: “As per Section 39 of the Criminal Procedure Code, every person aware of the commission of, or of the intention of any person to commit any offence against the state, public tranquility and offences relating to life and property is duty-bound to forthwith give that information to the nearest magistrate or police officer. Failure on the part of any person to disclose such information is punishable under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code.”

“There is a provision in the draft Bill, prepared by the Law Commission, which obliges any person in possession of some information which may be useful for the prevention or the prosecution of a terrorist offence to disclose that information to the law enforcement authority concerned. Such a duty is also cast on every person under the normal law,” the ministry said.

A senior Supreme Court advocate, Dr B.L. Wadhera, told The Tribune, that the provisions were “uncalled for” and it violated the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution.

“Going by the experience of misuse of Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), the provisions in the draft Bill indicate that it could be misused by the police to harass mediapersons,” he said.

Dr Wadhera said the provision would serve no purpose as according to convention journalists had to protect their sources. By invoking such provisions, the public would be deprived of dissemination of information.

The president of the Supreme Court Bar, Mr K.K. Venugopal, said the freedom of speech could be restricted for ensuring public order and security of the state. Stating that he had not studied the draft Bill, he said “there should reasonable provisions to safeguard the interests of journalists before invoking any provision which hampers in the dissemination of information.”

He said contempt of court proceedings had been initiated in England against journalists for their failure to disclose the sources of information.

Another leading legal expert, senior advocate P.N. Lekhi said, “The provisions would serve no purpose”. He said the draft Bill had been drafted keeping in view the stringent observations made by the Supreme Court.

The provisions have been incorporated keeping in mind the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and the North-East. However, going by the experience of TADA which was misused throughout the country, it would not be a surprise that newspersons are harassed by the police.

The draft Bill states that journalists should report to the police all they know about terrorists. If they don’t, they could be imprisoned for a period up to one year. Another provision states that the police can demand any information regarding terrorists from journalists. If they withhold information, they can be imprisoned for up to three years.

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