The latest changes to India's main anti-terror law, ratified by Parliament this week, has again become a concern for human rights organisations at home and abroad, which claim the legislation has become more prone to abuses now.
London-based Amnesty International's secretary general Salil Shetty said the legislation fell short of international rights standards, and the Amnesty wanted the President to reject the changes made to Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.Muslims, to whom the war on terror has often looked like a war on the community itself, too are worried. They have called for rejections of the changes mainly because it uses terrorism as an overbroad term.
The law expands the definition of "person" to now include a "Hindu Undivided Family" (HUF) or "an association of persons or a body of individuals", a broad-brush term that gives police sweeping powers, activists say. The Constitution holds right to association as a fundamental right.
Rights icon Binayak Sen, a 61-year-old doctor and rights activist, had to face long periods of incarceration on charges of carrying messages to Maoists, or left-wing extremists.
The latest amendments increases the period for which an organisation or association can be declared as unlawful from two years to five years. It expands the definition of a 'terrorist act' to include acts that threaten the economic security.
Responding to the debate in Rajya Sabha, minister of state for home, Ramachandran Mullapally had rejected such suspicions.
"The Act does not give sweeping powers to the police and there are checks and balances that will prevent misuse of the Act."
India had repealed previous anti-terror legislations, such as the POTA, 2002 and the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act 1985 (TADA), respectively in 2004 and 1996 after criticism of wide abuse, and serious human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, torture and fabrication of evidence.
The police can now "legitimately" arrest people who have raised monies or sent remittances home on the merest suspicion that they had knowledge that the sums might be for terrorists, the Jamia Teachers' Solidarity said in a statement.
"India has a duty to fight terror. But counter-terror without justice will not result in a sustainable security," Shetty said.