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24 January, 2011

Call to scrap Unlawful Activities Act which criminalizes dissent

The following is the text of an online petition appealing to the President of India to scrap the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act:

The President of India,
Rashtrapati Bhavan,
New Delhi.

We, the undersigned, are gravely concerned about the use of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) by the government of India and state governments to silence voices of dissent and opposition. Recently, a large number of political activists, human rights defenders and journalists have been arrested and convicted on the basis of this draconian law. We view this act only as a means of state terror intended to endanger citizens who are brave enough to speak, write or act against the interests of the ruling party and big business. The case of Dr. Binayak Sen confirmed our worst fears- that nobody who exercises their free speech to expose the violent state is spared.

If Dr. Sen is one of the more famous victims of this anti-democratic law, hundreds languish in jails in the country for speaking out against the collusion between multinational companies, politicians and the police. UAPA is being used to repress struggles by poor peasants and Adivasis for their land and resources , against striking workers, minorities, civil rights activists, journalists, lawyers and students for protesting against anti-people policies of the government. Swapan Dasgupta, the editor of a political magazine from West Bengal, died in police custody after being booked under UAPA in 2009. Spokesperson of People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA) Chhtaradhar Mahato was arrested under UAPA in 2009 and still is in jail in West Bengal. It has been used against journalists like KK Shahina of Tehelka who dared to write about a legal system discriminating against minorities and against Dalit activists like Sudhir Dhawale who worked in open and public platforms. The law gives unlimited freedom to the police to interpret what constitutes “terrorism” and “unlawful activity” to suit the interests of the rich and the powerful.

This law is against the spirit of our Constitution and should be opposed on the basis of the following:

• UAPA criminalizes dissent. Section 15 of the act defines ‘terrorist activity’ extremely vaguely and gives enough room for executive to illegalize activities that challenge the anti-people policies of governments.

• Through this law, governments can brand any organization that it finds inconvenient as “terrorist” or “unlawful. Section 39 makes support to a terrorist organization an offence and criminalizes common activities like arranging, organizing or addressing public meetings.

• It permits longer detention of ‘terror suspects’, up to 6 months, without charge or trial. It sanctions harsh and tough procedures for the detained person to obtain bail which curtails the rights of the accused. This facilitates long incarceration of political activists and members of civil society who question the government.

• It allows anonymous witnesses which limits and curtails the right of the accused for a fair trial. Needless to say, all these provisions violate fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution of India.

We understand that UAPA is an anti-people legislation that is designed to silence voices of dissent and bury political freedom. We feel that the continuance of this law and its extensive use to annihilate opposition is against the spirit of free speech, human rights and democracy enshrined in our constitution. We, therefore, appeal to you to immediately repeal UAPA and to free all political prisoners booked and arrested under this draconian law.

Please sign the petition here:

PS: Please write your full name and organizational affiliation, if any.

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