UAPA conviction rate: Need to curb misuse of anti-terror law - The Tribune India

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UAPA conviction rate

Need to curb misuse of anti-terror law

UAPA conviction rate

Photo for representational purpose only.

The Centre has informed the Rajya Sabha that 4,690 people were arrested across the country under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in the past three years, of whom only 149 were convicted. Thus, the conviction rate under this anti-terror law works out to be an abysmal 3 per cent. This can be attributed mainly to three factors: prolonged trial; indiscriminate use of the law; and cases falling flat in courts. Though the Centre claims that there are ‘adequate constitutional, institutional and statutory safeguards to prevent misuse of UAPA’, the situation on the ground is far from encouraging. Last month, the Tripura police had booked 102 social media account holders, including journalists, under UAPA for their comments or reports on communal violence in the state. Simple tweets such as ‘Tripura is burning’ were regarded as incriminatory by the powers that be. The knee-jerk response triggered allegations that the state authorities had unleashed a draconian law to intimidate and silence mediapersons and civil society activists. In a timely intervention, the Supreme Court had restrained the police from arresting two lawyers and a journalist who were part of a fact-finding team probing the violence.

Though the number of nationwide arrests under UAPA has dropped considerably from 1,948 in 2019 to 1,321 in 2020, the law remains prone to abuse. The three states/UTs with the highest number of arrests last year were Uttar Pradesh (361), Jammu and Kashmir (346) and Manipur (225). It’s not surprising to find UP at the top of the table. The ruling dispensation has been under fire for its high-handed approach to quelling protests, particularly the anti-CAA demonstrations held between December 2019 and March 2020.

It’s a citizen’s constitutionally guaranteed right to stage a protest peacefully or express one’s opinion responsibly. Labelling it as a ‘terrorist activity’ is nothing but the State’s desperate ploy to suppress dissent and stifle free speech. No wonder most of the UAPA cases don’t stand judicial scrutiny. The courts have been performing reasonably well as the custodian of people’s rights. The onus is on the governments to desist from vindictive and arbitrary use of UAPA and other such stringent laws.

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