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Thursday, December 03, 2020

UAPA in Punjab: Low on conviction, high on charges

On October 12, Supreme Court granted bail to UAPA accused Bikramjit Singh, one of the two men arrested in case pertaining to a grenade attack on Nirankari Bhawan in Rajasansi of Amritsar on November 18, 2018.

Written by Kamaldeep Singh Brar | Amritsar | Updated: November 16, 2020 7:40:06 am
Mumbai: 4 cops get bail a month after police drop murder chargeAdditional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat reserved the order after arguments concluded Thursday. (Representational Image)

Punjab Police had touted him as a big catch after booking him under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) arresting him for first time in November 2017. Three years down the line, a court granted bail to ‘prized catch’ — British national Jagtar Singh Johal alias Jaggi — in the case pertaining to targetted killing in Punjab. Johal will, however, remain in jail as there are total nine UAPA cases pending against him.

On October 12, Supreme Court granted bail to UAPA accused Bikramjit Singh, one of the two men arrested in case pertaining to a grenade attack on Nirankari Bhawan in Rajasansi of Amritsar on November 18, 2018.

Days later, on October 26, an Amritsar court acquitted seven UAPA accused in a terror case. One of the acquitted men had been named in a dossier that Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amrinder Singh had handed over to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2018.

On June 30 this year, Punjab Police claimed to have foiled a major bid by Pakistan-backed terrorists to target socio-religious leaders and disturb communal harmony in the state with the arrest of three members of Khalistan Liberation Front (KLF). The accused were booked under UAPA among other charges. Officers said the module was operating in various parts of Punjab at the behest of pro-Khalistani elements based in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UK. It was alleged that the accused were arrested with a .32 bore pistol, along with seven cartridges.

Within a fortnight of such claims, Punjab Police discharged one of the accused, Jaspreet Singh, 18, from all the charges. Friends of another accused, Lovepreet Singh of Kaithal, allege that he was held because he used to serve langar at Shaheen Bagh during the anti-CAA protest.

Ludhiana-based lawyer Jaspal Singh Manjhpur claims the police have arrested 370 persons in 94 cases under UAPA since 2007. Manjhpur, who was himself booked under UAPA in 2009 and spent around a year and half in jail for conspiracy against state, says in half of these cases (47), the accused were either discharged or acquitted, while the rest are still pending in the courts.

Punjab Police registered their first case under UAPA in 2009. The following year saw the registration of 18 cases. Since 2017, a total of 47 cases have been registered and accused in six cases have been acquitted or discharged. In the first six months of 2020 alone, the police arrested 43 persons in 11 cases under the UAPA.

Although conviction under UAPA cases is low in Punjab, the accused remain behind bars for a long time.

The Indian Express studied 10 high-profile cases registered under UAPA in recent years and found that in eight of these cases, there was no occurrence of any crime and the police had arrested the accused on the basis of information that they may commit a crime.

“UAPA is a political tool in Punjab. It helps the government create fear about the return of militancy. Politicians use it to threaten a segment of voters,” alleges writer and former IAS officer Gurtej Singh.

Manjhpur adds, “Invoking Section 15 allows police to call anyone a terrorist without any proof. You just have to tell the court that the accused was planning an attack.”

Punjab and Haryana High Court advocate Gurvinder Singh Sidhu says, “If a suspect is booked under UAPA, their statement given in police custody is admissible in court. So, it is for accused to prove in court that their confession was forced or not. Police just have to tell the court that the accused was planning an attack. This also ensures denial of bail for a long, long time.”

Sidhu has been asked by Akal Takht to represent a UAPA accused Tirath Singh, who was living inside a gurdwara premises in Thapar Nagar, Meerut in Uttar Pradesh. Tirath’s father is a rickshaw-puller and his family had no money for legal aide. On May 28 this year, a Punjab Police team picked him up on the charge that he was planning a crime. The FIR registered against him under Section 120-B of the IPC and Section 18, 20 of UAPA at Mohali, has no occurrence of crime or recovery of any weapon.

In the last four months alone, the police have discharged one UAPA accused and admitted that evidence against another was plain ‘hearsay’.

On July 2, Joginder Singh Gujjar, 65, who the police called a prominent member of the banned outfit Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), was booked under UAPA though there was no occurrence of crime.

In court, Bholath DSP Jatinderjit Singh submitted, “There is no evidence that Joginder Singh ever participated or propagated the activities of SFJ founder Gurpatwant Singh Pannun…till today an investigation is going on to establish this…Except for hearsay evidence, there is no substantive evidence against Joginder Singh.” The Additional Public Prosecutor also conceded that “except for the allegations levelled in the FIR on the basis of secret information, there is no document to connect the accused/applicant to SFJ or to consider his active participation in commission of any offence under the Act.”

Gujjar was fortunate to get bail within a month, which is rare in UAPA cases.

On May 11, 2018, police arrested two men, allegedly backed by an Australia-based Khalistani outfit, in Kotkapura and seized two .30 bore pistols and 40 live cartridges from them. They alleged that their Australia-based handler Gurjant Singh had financed the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) terror module that carried out eight incidents of targeted attacks/killings in Punjab between January 2016 and October 2017.

Gurjant Singh, a taxi driver known for taking on Punjabi singers for vulgarity on his Facebook account with over 2 lakh followers, disappeared from FB after the case.

Police have not produced a challan even after more than two years as they are yet to get the nod from the home department. The two Punjab-based accused were bailed out after more than a year in jail.

The Pakistan link

It is also commonplace for the police to link UAPA accused with Pakistan.

On June 4, 2017 Punjab Police claimed to have busted a terror module having links with Pakistan’s ISI backed banned terror outfit International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) and arrested three ‘terrorists’ namely, Gurdial Singh, Jagroop Singh and Satwinder Singh, who they accused of being trained and tasked by the ISI to carry out terror attacks.

This case was also part of the 23-page dossier handed over to Islamabad on July 14, 2019, during the Kartarpur Corridor talks at the Wagah border.

Three years later, the DSP investigating the case submitted, “I do not remember whether any money was transferred from any country, especially Pakistan and Germany, to the account of the accused Gurdial Singh… Traveling to Pakistan for visiting a gurudwara or a religious place is not illegal or a crime. All the books taken into possession were by publishers available in the market…There is no evidence to show that the accused were waging a war against India.”

Thanks to this statement, the trio was acquitted of the charges framed under UAPA and are out on bail. Two of them have already spent three years behind bars.

A Christian ‘Khalistani’

In October 2018, the Sultanwind police in Amritsar booked 30 youngsters under UAPA besides other sections of the IPC and the Arms Act. Punjab Police investigated the case for 18 months before handing it to NIA.

Roofal alias Rahul, a Christian by faith, is the only person from whom a weapon was seized. The police challan claims that he attended a meeting with other accused to discuss the formation of Khalistan.

Rahul is in jail since 2018 along with 11 other accused.

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