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Awaiting Presidential nod, Gujarat anti-terror bill "qualifies" anti-govt protests as an act of terrorism

By Our Representative
Gujarat's two senior human rights activists have said that the Gujarat Control of Terror and Organised Crime (GUJTOC) Bill, 2015, currently awaiting the President’s assent, on paper seeks to curb organised crime and terrorism, but, in practice, will prove to be a “no-holds-barred attack on free speech.” In fact, they believe, thanks to its vague language, it will be a “codified a means for police intimidation” to quash any opposition to governmental decisions, terming them “terrorist.”
Alleging that it will be used particularly against the minority communities like Prevention of Terrorist Act (POTA) and Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA, both of whom were repealed following uproar, the activists say, it is well known how POTA, “in its short life of a little over two years, was the legal means to register 287 cases in Gujarat – all against Muslims, barring one; a similar pattern was observed with TADA.”
The activists – Rohit Prajapati and Trupti Shah – in an article in the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) “Bulletin” – have said, “the most worrisome aspect” of GUJTOC is that it “makes no distinction between acts of terrorism, criminal activity and legitimate protest against the government anti-people policies.”
Giving details of the “draconian” provisions of the Bill, they say, “It defines 'terrorist act' as 'intention to disturb law and order, or public order, or to threaten the unity, integrity…', adding, sections 2(1)(d), (e), and (f), in effect, term any opposition to the government's efforts to amend or bring in laws related to labour, environment, land acquisition would be “construed as an actual act of terrorism, and a concerned citizen expressing dissent can be prosecuted.”
Sections 5 “introduces the provision of the special court "taking cognisance of any offence without the accused being committed to it for trial" on the basis of a mere police report, and section 14 allows evidence collected through the "interception of wire, electronic or oral communication” admissible in the court against accused, activists say.
“Section 16 allows a confession that was recorded before a police official of Superintendent of Police rank to be admissible in a trial against the accused or any of the other accused in a case”, the activists says, adding, this virtually “overrides” Section 162 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and Sections 25 and 26 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, which specifically prohibit the use of statements made to police officers in evidence.
A provision in section 17, the activists say, “empowers the special courts to hold the trial in-camera and take any measures necessary for concealing the identity and address of the witnesses”, and “allows court to make a decision that 'it is in the public interest to order that all or any of the proceedings pending before such a Court shall not be published in any manner'.”
“In an attempt to gag any reporting on trial proceedings, the law imposes a punishment of Rs 1 lakh along with a one-year prison sentence. This gag order by the court will penalize the few journalists who follow the cases in court, while leaving the initial frenzy of police stories untouched. Not to mention, snuffing out public scrutiny of the government's case.”, the activists underline.
Giving other details, activists say, Clause 20 (3) “removes the option of anticipatory bail”, and clause 20 (4) provides for “extremely restrictive conditions regarding bail, almost mandating the acquiescence of the public prosecutor”, and Clause 20 (5) “denies bail even if the accused had been released on bail in an offence under any other law on the date of the offence.”
Then there is Section 22 which “shifts the burden of proof from the prosecution to the accused in certain circumstances. In doing so, it dispenses with the presumption of innocence of the accused and breaks the 'golden thread' of criminal jurisprudence, requiring the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt”, the activists say.
Further, there is Section 25which grants “ complete immunity to all state functionaries for any action taken under the provisions of the Bill”, which effect means “impunity to police officers for torture and extra-judicial methods employed in criminal investigations, under the garb of anti-terror operations”.

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