UAPA case: No coercive action, SC tells Tripura

The Supreme Court on Wednesday restrained the Tripura Police from arresting two lawyers and a journalist, who were booked under the anti-terror law Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), for their social media posts on the communal violence in the state
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Published on Nov 18, 2021 12:06 AM IST
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ByHT Correspondent, New Delhi

The Supreme Court on Wednesday restrained the Tripura Police from arresting two lawyers and a journalist, who were booked under the anti-terror law Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), for their social media posts on the communal violence in the state.

“We issue notice on this petition. No coercive steps to be taken against the petitioners till the next date of hearing,” directed a bench, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana.

The bench, which also included justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant, sought a response from the Tripura government within four weeks, adding the petition will be heard along with the other bunch of cases where the constitutional validity of UAPA has been challenged. No date was set for the hearing.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan appeared for the three petitioners, advocates Mukesh Gaur and Ansarul Haq Ansari, and journalist Shyam Meera Singh, requesting protection from arrest.

On November 6, Tripura Police booked 102 social media users, including journalists and activists, under UAPA, besides criminal conspiracy and forgery charges, and served notices to the authorities at Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to freeze their accounts and inform it about their particulars. The charges relate to spreading communal hatred through their social media posts about the violent incidents in the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled state in the last week of October.

Two women journalists, Samriddhi K Sakunia and Swarna Jha, employed with Delhi-based news channel HW News Network, were also arrested by Tripura Police in the early hours of Monday for alleged criminal conspiracy and spread of communal hatred while reporting on the October 26 violence in the state. They were granted bail on Tuesday.

A case was also registered against four lawyers under the stringent anti-terror law and various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for allegedly promoting communal disharmony with their social media posts relating to the violence that followed a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) protest against the attacks in Bangladesh on Hindus during Durga Puja.

In their petition before the top court, the petitioners highlighted the vagueness of the definition of “unlawful activity”; the “wide net” the law casts on freedom of speech and expression; its tendency to bring within its fold mere criticism of government policies or actions that have no effect on public order or the security, sovereignty and integrity of India; and its indiscriminate use against those critical of the government produces a “chilling effect” on the freedom of speech and expression.

They also challenged the UAPA provision that bars anticipatory bail, besides contending that the law violates Articles 14 (equality before the law and equal protection of law), 19(1)(a) (freedom of speech and expression) and 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Constitution.

The petitioners said they were seeking protection of their fundamental rights against the backdrop of “targeted political violence against the Muslim minorities in the state of Tripura during the second half of the month of October, 2021, and the subsequent efforts by the state of Tripura to monopolise the flow of information and facts emanating from the affected areas by invoking provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, against members of civil society, including advocates and journalists who have made the effort to bring facts in relation to the targeted violence in the public domain”.

“If the quest for truth and reporting thereof itself is criminalised, then the victim in the process is the idea of justice. Such circumstances strike at the very foundations of a participative democratic society as it curbs the free flow of information and ideas and no inconvenient facts will be available in the public domain for the citizenry to demand corrective action from the State where there have been shortcomings and lapses on its part,” stated the petition.

On October 29, the Tripura government had said that a vested interest group from outside hatched a conspiracy to create unrest in the state and malign its image by uploading a fake photograph of a burning mosque on social media. The police have investigated the case and found that no mosque was burnt in Panisagar sub-division in North Tripura district, information and culture minister Sushanta Chowdhury had said.

The Supreme Court has been seized of a batch of cases, led by a Delhi resident, Sajal Awasthi, who challenged the legality of 2019 amendments to the UAPA allowing it to declare an individual a “terrorist” and also attach his or her properties even before trial, among other provisions.

In September 2019, the top court admitted Awasthi’s petition, issuing a notice to the Union government. Similar other petitions were also filed in the top court, including one by the Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR).

These petitions said that the new amendments the amendments to UAPA were violative of Articles 14, 19(1)(a) and 21of the Constitution which guarantee the right to equality, the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to life to all citizens.

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Saturday, December 04, 2021