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PUCL meet cites NIA notice to farmer protesters, demands repeal of UAPA

By Our Representative

Senior activists from the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), along with around 100 organisations, which began a three day virtual consultation on human rights issues, have demanded repeal of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act, stating that these laws are being used as a tool to finish democracy and silence dissent.
V Suresh, PUCL general secretary, stated that UAPA has reversed every element of the principle of natural justice. The accused has to prove his or her innocence, illegal detention is justified for more than six months, bail grounds are not what the same as in other criminal laws, and even prima facie involvement in a case leads to denial of bail.
Suresh noted, UAPA has become a tool to silence dissenters and as a means to throw them in prison and deny them their civil liberties indefinitely. If earlier the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) was brazenly used on Muslims and tribals, mainly to persecute activists, dubbing them as terrorists and Maoists, ever since 2004, a more stringent UAPA seeks to target not only Muslim, tribals and Dalits, but also intellectuals, political critics, trade unionists, lawyers and activists who are do constitutional work.
PUCL vice president Mihir Desai, an eminent human rights lawyer, pointed towards how the NIA Act and the National Intelligence Grid or NATGRID are being used to further persecute those targeted, asserting, there was a complete invasion of the privacy of those who came under the radar of these agencies. NATGRID collects information from 12 agencies and people are subjected to constant surveillance.
Activists from the Human Rights Forum and the Civil Liberties Committee, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, made a presentation on what is happening in the two states which are non-BJP. Even the most basic tool of human rights work, like fact finding, is being criminalised.
Advocate Madhava Rao, citing various FIRs, explained how the targeting of activists has become a norm. Random statements from anyone are used in order to pick up anyone and blame human rights activists for distributing seditious materials or being associated with a Maoist organisation.
Advocates Kranti Chaitanya and V Raghunath said, even those working for simple developmental issues like education, health, food security etc. are being targeted. Those fighting against caste violence are under constant threat of being booked under UAPA. People are thrown into jail for years together before bail is granted, and those facing persecution include students, Dalits, tribals, women, civil liberty activists and environmentalists.
N Ravi Sharma, who earlier spent seven years in jail, and more recently was behind bars for eight months for forming an anti-Hindutva front with several organisation, said, the police operates with instructions from above. Holding different views is enough for you to be incarcerated.
Swechata Prabhakar, referring to her father D Prabhakar of the Kula Unmulan Pareta Samiti, said he found himself in jail as he challenged caste violence and was dubbed Maoist.
National Intelligence Grid is being used to persecute activists, invade into  privacy of those who come under its radar
A presentation by activists from Delhi pointed towards the violence in the national capital following demonstrations against the Citizenship Amendment Act, Nation Register of Citizens and National Population Register (CAA, NRC and NPR), stating, the Government of India is criminalising protests, much against the core principles of the Indian Constitution relating to the freedom of speech and expression.
Advocate Shahrukh Alam compared various judgements on the right to protest, including the judgement on the Shaheen Bagh road block, with the American jurisprudence on protest. He said, the comparison makes is crystal clear that a road block due to protest is equivalent to traffic block, and the offense is no greater than that. It is not a criminal act, even though in Delhi those participating in protests have been branded as terrorists.
Nadeem Khan of the United Against Hate, detailing the profiles of the 23 arrested persons under UAPA, most of them aged under 35, said, more than 400 people have been summoned by the Special Cell of the Delhi police in order to fix confessions. Those refusing to consent are threatened that they would face jail sentence, thus creating a culture of fear.
Well-known academic Apoorvanand said that any person who agrees with anti-CAA protesters and criticises Delhi police, such as Yogendra Yadav, Rahul Roy, Harsh Mander, are harassed. Lawyer Mehmood Pracha, who was representing many clients of the Delhi riots, is harassed by Delhi police in a most tyrannical manner.
Speaking about how those involved in farmers’ struggle are being harassed, advocate Guneet Kaur said that at least 100 protesters have been sent NIA notices. The nature of interrogation consists of people being called to Delhi and asked to submit their bank account details.
A massive intelligence exercise has been undertaken to target farmer-activists. The FIRs are vague, claiming that the farmers’ protesters are getting money from banned organisations like Sikhs for Justice and Babar Khalsa to promote terrorism, she added.

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