Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"Repeal" Gujarat anti-terror bill, it's "incompatible" with human rights norms

By Our Representative
Top human rights body, Amnesty International, has asked the President of India to reject the new anti-terror bill, passed in the Gujarat state assembly last month-end. Calling it "draconian", Amnesty said, it "falls far short of international human rights standards." It also demanded, "Similar laws already in force in other states and nationally must be immediately repealed."
Called the Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime (GUJTCOC) Bill, 2015, it needs presidential assent to become law. Amnesty said, “Political parties have tried to paint the passing of the bill as a political tussle. But unfortunately, several parties have been guilty of supporting similar laws at the state and national level,” he said, pointing out that "the GUJTCOC bill is based on similar laws in force in the states of Maharashtra and Karnataka."
Specifically referring to the the objectionable provisions in the GUJTCOC bill which are "incompatible with international human rights standards, and must be repealed or extensively revised", Amnesty said, these include the definitions of terrorism, which include acts “committed with the intention to disturb…public order”, or “likely to cause…loss of, or damage to, or destruction of, property”.
Similarly, Amnesty said, "The definition of abetment in the bill covers a range of activities including 'communication or association with any person' assisting an organized crime syndicate, or publishing 'without any lawful authority, any information likely to assist an organized crime syndicate'.”
According to Amnesty, "These broad definitions could threaten several basic rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and association. Organizing a demonstration or protest critical of the government could be labelled and prosecuted as an act of terrorism under the overly broad definition used in the bill. Writing a journalistic report on an act of terrorism could be prosecuted as abetment."
"Any definition of terrorism and related acts should be exact and legally precise", Amnesty said, adding, "Counter-terrorism measures should be necessary and proportionate to countering specific threats of terrorism."
It said, "The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – to which India is a state party – has been interpreted by the UN Human Rights Committee as requiring states to ensure that counter-terrorism measures do not lead to unnecessary or disproportionate interference with freedom of expression."
According to Amnesty, Section 20 (2) of the bill seeks to "extend the minimum period of detention of suspects from 15 days to 30 days and the maximum period of detention without charge from 90 days – already far beyond international standards - to 180 days." And, "the only safeguard provided is that the court should satisfy itself from the prosecution about the progress made in the investigation and the specific reasons for the detention beyond 90 days."
"The possibility of long periods of detention without charge increases the risk of torture and other ill-treatment in custody. Such violations have frequently taken place during similar detention in Gujarat and other states. A longer period of pre-charge detention cannot be a substitute for more effective policing and investigation", Amnesty said.
Then, said Amnesty, Section 16 of the bill "seeks to make a confession made by a detainee to a police officer at or above the rank of Superintendent admissible as evidence in court, subject to certain conditions." It added, "Under ordinary Indian criminal law, confessions made to the police are not admissible as evidence because of fears that they may be obtained through torture or other ill-treatment."
Further, Section 14 of the bill states that evidence collected “through the interception of wire, electronic or oral communication under the provisions of any other law shall be admissible as evidence against the accused” in court. Objecting to it, Amnesty said, "Interception of communications can interfere with the right to freedom of expression and association and the right to individual privacy" and "violates international human rights standards."

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