Prominent lawyers, academics, poets and writers are locked up in Indian prison since 2018 after false accusation by the government that they are conspirators of violence to destabilise the country. In 2020 when Covid-19 pandemic was at its peak, three further arrests were made with the same accusation. Altogether twelve professionals are falsely accused with the Bhima Koregaon communal violence (hence known as BK12), and are at high risks of contracting Covid-19 in crowded prisons. But the Indian government wants them to remain behind bars no matter they are at risks of Covid-19; no matter that the police has failed to file any concrete evidence of their ‘crime’ in the last two years.
The American Bar Association has raised questions the way the arrests have been made and has outlined certain gross irregularities in the pre-trial proceedings. The Bar Association has expressed concerns over the handling of the case by the police, and the materials being produced as evidence as they were not seized in accordance with law. BK12 are arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) branding them ‘Maoists’, ‘terrorists’, ‘plotters to kill the Indian Prime Minister’. They face a lengthy trial.
Guilty before trial
Unlike the regular Criminal Law which functions with the principle that an accused is innocent until proven guilty, the UAPA assumes that the accused is guilty until proven innocent. With rigid provisions of bail in Act, the accused spends in prison for years waiting for trial often for flimsy reasons without any founded evidence. An accusation is all the police need to arrest a person under the UAPA - they do not need a warrant, they do not need proof, they do not need evidence. The individual will possibly be acquitted eventually, but before that she or he will spend many years behind bars.
Under the act Dr Binayak Sen, a renowned public health specialist internationally acclaimed for his work with the poor, was sentenced to life on the basis of three letters he had allegedly ‘delivered’ to a prisoner. Dr Sen’s arrest caused widespread condemnation across India and in the UK and USA. He was finally released on bail after more than two years in prison. Such is the travesty of justice associated with UAPA.
The UAPA carries all sorts of procedures beyond normal legal framework - extended pre-charge remand, impossible bail standards, secret trials etc all aimed at keeping people in prison for as long as possible. The police remand for custodial interrogation can extend up to 30 days rather than 15 under ordinary law. Police can continue to keep suspects under detention up to 180 days without filing a charge-sheet, as opposed to 90 days under ordinary laws.
The pre-charge detention under UAPA is the longest anywhere in the world for terror laws - in USA 2 days, Russia 5 days, UK 28 days. The House of Commons in the UK passed a counter terrorism bill in 2008 by a thin majority of 9, which would have extended the pre-charge detention period from 28 to 42 days. The provisions were defeated in the House of Lords by a majority of 309 votes to 118. In India, in the same year, the provisions to extend the period of remand and detention were passed in half a day despite some calls for referring it to the standing committee.
India in Crisis
India in Crisis
The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) under which scores of intellectuals, academics and social activists are languishing in Indian prisons waiting for trials is beyond any common understanding of justice. Under the pretence of protecting the country from terrorism, UAPA provides greater powers to the state to suppressing any form of dissent or disagreement with the policies of the government, and thus allows the misuse of law. Involvement or any association with violence is not a necessary ground for one to be arrested under the Act.