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Arrests in Kerala under terror law UAPA just for distributing pamphlets, pasting posters?

Counterview Desk

A letter written from the prison at a time when the media predicted imminent arrest of CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechuri, which was later denied by the Delhi Police, has caused considerable consternation -- as it accuses the Kerala government under the Left-democratic dispensation of being as vindictive towards activists as the BJP rulers at the Centre.
Also written amidst many other activists, including former student leader Umar Khalid, being arrested and detained by the Delhi police, foisting on them charges under the controversial Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), the letter, by the prisoner, Roopesh, says not only he is being charged under UAPA but the the pandemic situation is being “used” by the Kerala administration against him.

Text: 

I am an under-trial prisoner, currently lodged at the Central Prison Viyyur, Thrissur, Kerala for alleged Maoist activity. I was arrested near Coimbatore,Tamil Nadu, along with my wife and 3 others by Andhra Pradesh Special Intelligence Bureau (APSIB) on May 4, 2015.
Subsequently remanded to judicial custody, I have been undergoing detention under judicial custody for more than 5 years. I have been implicated in 26 UAPA cases by Kerala police. In the meantime, I was legally classified as a political prisoner by a Sessions Court after recognising that the nature of the offences charged against me are completely political.
The purpose of writing this letter from a caged prison cell (this is the high security anda cells in Kerala prisons) is to render my heartful salute for conducting an all India campaign against the draconian UAPA and for the release of political prisoners who languish in various Indian prisons, particularly after the outbreak of a Covid-19 pandemic.
Being a political prisoner and having been incarcerated for the past 5 years without trial, this campaign certainly instils immense confidence to traverse this most difficult period in my life.
It is an undisputed fact among the democratic forces that UAPA is one of the most draconian laws in Indian criminal jurisprudence. Historically UAPA is the extension of Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes act (popularly known as Rowlatt Act). It was camouflaged during the post 1947 period under various names such as UAPA 1964, TADA, POTA etc.
The intention of the colonialists was to criminalise the idea of patriotism and repress any kind of dissent against colonial exploitation and oppression. That the people of India had come out and fought back against the draconian oppressive criminal laws is history. The epic Jallianwalla Bagh and its aftermath were historic instances of fierce resistance by the Indian masses against the notorious Rowlatt Act.
Again the democratic forces of India fought against TADA and POTA, which forced the ruling classes to repeal these oppressive acts, though the large number of previous cases were left untouched.
The purpose of the most draconian UAPA, after the amendments in 2004, 2008 and 2019, is the same: Criminalize oppositional ideas and get licence for unleashing state terror against any kind of dissent. The word 'disaffection' (against India) is often being used to brand any legitimate protest to be an 'unlawful activity' or 'terrorist act' under UAPA.
Indeed it has resulted in incarceration of large number of adivasis, peasants, communists, students, minorities, nationalists and now eminent human right activists in various prisons in India. The recent 2019 amendment in UAPA, further axed the fundamental rights envisaged in the constitution of India. It gives power to police for classifying an individual as a terrorist even without the necessity of a court to find it so!
In such a dismal situation the CPM Central Committee’s campaign against UAPA and for release of political prisoners is commendable. Certainly it gives enormous amount of confidence, and of course gives optimism, to the political prisoners who are languishing in various prisons. Once again a big salute for such timely political intervention in the defence of the existing constitutional rights.
Forgive me for chronicling here the rampant use of the UAPA in Kerala, the only state ruled by a Left government and where CPM's PB member Pinarayi Vijayan heads both the chief minister’s post and the home portfolio. I am narrating my own experience.
As I mentioned earlier I have been implicated in 26 UAPA cases by the erstwhile UDF government. Initially, I was implicated under relatively less punishable UAPA offences such section 10 and 13. But after LDF came to power, all these UAPA sections were altered and modified into most punishable Sections 20, 38 and 39 of UAPA.
Being an erstwhile parliamentarian and a relentless campaigner against UAPA, you clearly know that Section 45 of UAPA, incorporated through the 2008 amendment when you were a member of Rajya Sabha, warrants a valid sanction from a statutory authority for check and balance of unbridled power of the police and for avoiding frivolous and vexatious prosecutions against political activists.
It is meant to ensure procedural safeguard against arbitrariness of the police. It enforces strict compliance of procedures stipulated in Section 45 of UA(P)A on the investigating agency. It is a fact that any attempt to weaken Section 45 of the UAPA will make that act more ruthless and ferocious. And that would be against the letter and spirit of the parliamentary debate during the introduction of Section 45 in UAPA, in which you too participated actively.
Main fear of police is, that if Kerala High Court ruling stands, UAPA detenues like me and others will get relief from draconian acts
I was discharged from three cases by the Kerala High Court vide a common order. It reiterated that though the demand is there to repeal UAPA completely for ensuring constitutional rights, compliance of procedural safe guards, as given in Section 45, are mandatory in draconian acts like UAPA since that will at least provide some protection to political prisoners implicated under it.
Unfortunately the state police, under Pinarayi Vijayan, rather than grasping the available opportunity to strengthen checks and balances within UAPA, has decided to prefer an appeal against the discharge orders before the Supreme Court.
Alas, the age old question, "On which side are you?" is still relevant today. The main fear of the police is that if the Kerala High Court ruling stands, UAPA detenues like me and others will get relief from such draconian acts. The intention of police is clear. It is not only keen to strengthen the ruthless, draconian UAPA but also wants to avoid any procedural hindrance in the name of Section 45 of UAPA.
Interestingly, Kerala police filed this appeal before the Supreme Court during the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic. Due to the pandemic, regular functioning of Supreme Court is badly affected. It is hearing only important cases. Evidently, the natural course would be to wait till normalisation of the Supreme Court.
But the police didn't have the patience to wait. It forced Kerala's Advocate General (vide letter No T3 197780/2017, PHO, dated 13/8/2020) to prefer an interim stay before the Supreme Court.
The Advocate General, who is under Law Ministry (again under the leadership of another CPM Central Committee member A.K. Balan) after receiving communication from the state police chief (who is also a CPM follower) took up the matter with the standing counsel, a costly private lawyer of Supreme Court and gave instructions to file an interlocutory application immediately (vide letter No SC 2 Crl RP 732/19, dt 19/8/2020) that too during the surge of Covid-19, when Kerala is facing it's most difficult period and the Government is forced to mobilise all possible funds even from daily wagers and beggars for covering the shortage of funds.
Let alone the police chief, who was the then deputy chief of the NIA and admittedly not a communist, what about these three senior communists? Are they really a part of the campaign against UAPA? Or is the Kerala state exempted from the campaign?
Interestingly, I recently noticed a front page news item on August 6, 2020 in New Indian Express daily, "MCOCA-like law to be enacted in state to deal with crime syndicates". It was reported that senior Home Department officials said, Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has “given his approval for framing a new law to deal with the organised crime syndicates... A committee of officials that including the top brass police and intelligence has convinced the chief minister about the need to have a stringent law to deal with the organised crimes".
So what does this mean? I know that CPM was, in principle at least, against MCOCA in Maharashtra, Public Safety Act in Kashmir and A.P. and KCOCA in Karnataka. Then why this dichotomy? So, what is the difference between the Modi-Shah administration and the administration of Pinarayi Vijayan? Both are always concerned about boosting of the morale of police/ defence forces and rely mainly on draconian criminal laws.
I have seen several prisoners arrested and implicated under UAPA by police under Pinarayi Vijayan just for distributing some pamphlets and for pasting posters. Allan and Thwaha, two students who were arrested by the Pinarayi regime for mere alleged possession of some pamphlets are released now, on bail, as the Court found the evidences are insufficient to book them.
The question is: how can a wrong policy made under BJP or Congress governments become right under the CPM-led Government in Kerala? Let the seven martyrs who were gunned down by the police under Pinarayi Vijayan over the past 4 years forgive me for having hope in your all India campaign against UAPA.
No doubt it is a relevant campaign at this juncture, though your party has time and again proved its double standards in the States where it came into power. Once again I salute your noble intention behind the campaign against UAPA and to release the political prisoners.

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