Misuse of Powers to harass Dissenters also Terrorism

When human five rights activists were arrested by the Pune Police in what was seen as a nationwide crackdown on dissenting voices, civil society members led by Romila Thapar moved the Supreme Court against this. Today after the apex court disposed the petition and directed the activists to seek relief from lower courts, the petitioners have issued the following press release.  

Romila Thapar

We approached the Supreme Court when five well-known lawyers, journalists and civil rights activists were arrested across the country on 28th August and charged with abetting acts of terror under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

Our intention was to draw the attention of the judiciary to what we believe is a case of gross misuse of the state’s powers under draconian laws like the UAPA.  Our history as a republic shows that, if left unchecked, such misuse causes grave injustices and endangers the civil liberties of all Indians.  

Those arrested on 28th August have been accused of being implicated in acts of terrorism. 

However, we believe that there are two kinds of terrorism both of which create fear and undermine the foundations of our democracy: 
The violent acts of those described as terrorists, who plant bombs, instigate people to be violent, engineer riots and deliberately spread fear through their acts;
The illegal or unjustified acts of state functionaries who, instead of pursuing the actual perpetrators of violence, misuse their powers to harass those who do not conform to the politics of their current masters.

When the state uses anti-terror laws without adequate proof against persons known to be working for the rights of the weaker sections of society, it is also spreading a kind of terror.  Arbitrary arrests on implausible charges, like those of 28th August, are a source of anxiety for us all.  They mean that the police can walk into our homes and arrest us – either without a warrant, or a warrant written in a language we don’t understand – and then accuse us of activities about which we know nothing.

It has always been assumed that a genuine democracy will respect the constitutional and legal rights of every citizen, including the right to hold opinions different from – or even in opposition to – those of the government of the day.  Since these arrests follow similar arrests made in June, the arrests of 28th August point to a continuing attempt to erode these rights.

Our petition was essentially an appeal to the Supreme Court to check this erosion of rights and protect the liberty and dignity of human rights activists.

Today’s judgment has provided protection to the activists for a further period of 4 weeks and has given them the liberty to seek remedy from the appropriate courts. Our stand in this case finds vindication in the dissenting opinion of J. Dr. DY Chandrchud who has categorically held that liberty cannot be sacrificed at the altar of conjecture, and that the police had been taking liberties with the truth and besmirching the reputation of the activists by doing a media trial. Under such circumstances, the police’s ability to conduct a free, fair and impartial investigation is in serious doubt, as has been held by J. Dr. DY Chandrachud.

We, the Petitioners, are pleased to note that at least the liberty and dignity of the human rights activists has for the time being not been jeopardized and the Supreme Court has protected the same.
Signed, Delhi, 28th September 2018:

  1. Romila Thapar: _________
  2. Devaki Jain: _________
  3. Prabhat Patnaik _________
  4. Satish Deshpande _________
  5. Maja Daruwala ________



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