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Umar Khalid arrested under UAPA in Delhi riots case: What is this tough anti-terror law?

Students and activists have been charged under provisions of the anti-terror law in the Delhi riots case. What makes UAPA such a tough law, and how have the police justified invoking it?

Written by Sofi Ahsan | New Delhi |
Updated: September 17, 2020 8:39:52 am
Umar Khalid, Delhi riots case, Umar Khalid arrested, What is UAPA Act, Umar Khalid news, Delhi riots, UAPA law, Indian ExpressUmar Khalid is one of several young activists who have been booked in cases relating to the violence in Delhi in February. The police have invoked provisions of the UAPA to investigate the alleged “larger conspiracy” behind the riots.

Delhi Police on Monday got 10 days’custody of former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Umar Khalid, who had been arrested a day previously in a case registered under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

Khalid is one of several young activists who have been booked in cases relating to the violence in Delhi in February. The police have invoked provisions of the UAPA to investigate the alleged “larger conspiracy” behind the riots.

What is the UAPA, and what is it used for?

The UAPA is primarily an anti-terror law – aimed at “more effective prevention of certain unlawful activities of individuals and associations and for dealing with terrorist activities”. It was first promulgated in 1967 to target secessionist organisations, and is considered to be the predecessor of laws such as the (now repealed) Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) and Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA).

Amendments from time to time have made the UAPA more stringent. Following the last amendment in 2019, an individual can be designated a terrorist; only organisations could be designated earlier. UAPA cases are tried by special courts.

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The law has been used in cases other than those of conventional ‘terrorism’ or ‘terrorist acts’. It has of late been invoked against activists, student leaders, and journalists. UAPA cases have been filed against activists in the Bhima-Koregaon case; at least two journalists in Kashmir; Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, members of the women students and alumni collective Pinjra Tod; former Congress municipal councillor Ishrat Jahan; Khalid Saifi of the organisation United Against Hate; Jamia Millia Islamia student Safoora Zargar; and now, Umar Khalid.

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What do police say in the case registered against Khalid and others?

The investigation is based on FIR 59 of 2020, in which IPC Sections 302 (murder) 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, etc.), 124A (sedition), and others have been included.

The core of the police case is that the “communal riot incidents” of February 2020 in Delhi were “pre-planned” by Khalid and the others. Khalid is accused of giving provocative speeches and urging people to come out on the roads to ensure that the “propaganda of minorities in India are being persecuted” may get publicised during the visit of US President Donald Trump (on February 24-25).

Police have also claimed to have gathered evidence against the accused in the form of WhatsApp chats that were allegedly used in the “execution of the conspiracy”, alleged witness statements, and evidence of the receipt of funds from within India and overseas.

Also read | Before UAPA arrest, hurried goodbyes at Umar Khalid home

Umar Khalid, Delhi riots case, Umar Khalid arrested, What is UAPA Act, Umar Khalid news, Delhi riots, UAPA law, Indian Express Umar Khalid at a conference in Mumbai in January. (Express PhotoL Ganesh Shirsekar)

Which provisions of the UAPA have been used in the FIR?

Sections 13, 16, 17, and 18 of the UAPA were added to the case subsequently.

The Act defines unlawful activity as any action — spoken or written words, signs, or visible representation — which is intended or supports any claim to bring about secession of any part of India or which incites anyone towards secession; disclaims, questions, disrupts or intends to disrupt the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India; and “which causes or is intended to cause disaffection against India”.

The word “disaffection” has not been defined in the law, and finds mention only once.

Section 13 (“Punishment for unlawful activities”), which has been invoked against Khalid and others, provides for up to seven years in prison for anyone who “advocates, abets, advises or incites the commission of any unlawful activity”.

Section 16 (“Punishment for terrorist act”) specifies punishment with death or imprisonment for life in case a death has occurred as a result of the act. The law defines a terrorist act as one that is intended to threaten or is likely to threaten the unity, integrity, security, or sovereignty of India, and causes or is likely to cause death or injuries, and property damage.

Section 17 provides for punishment for raising funds for terrorist acts, and Section 18 deals with conspiracy behind the terrorist act or “any act preparatory to the commission of a terrorist act”.

How does Delhi Police justify invoking the anti-terror law?

While critics have argued that dissenting or protesting peacefully would not amount to causing “disaffection against India”, the police have told the court that the riots were a result of a bigger conspiracy to “overawe the government machinery”, and that the conspirators had a “specific purpose, object and mandate” to cause “disaffection and revolt against the Government of India”.

The prosecution has argued that the aim of the protests was “to destroy, destabilise and disintegrate the Government of India in order to compel (it) to withdraw the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and alleged National Register of Citizens.”

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What makes the UAPA more stringent than other laws?

Safoora Zargar is the only one among the accused booked under UAPA who has been given bail. But she was granted relief on humanitarian grounds — her case for bail was not dealt with on merits by Delhi High Court.

Three individuals belonging to the Popular Front of India (PFI) were granted bail in March, but that was prior to the addition of UAPA provisions to the case.

It is rare for an accused to get bail easily in a case under UAPA. The court can refuse bail if in its opinion the case is “prima facie” true. An accused cannot seek anticipatory bail, and the period of investigation can be extended to 180 days from 90 days on the public prosecutor’s request — which means the accused has virtually no chance of getting bail by default.

In UAPA cases, the police custody can also be extended to 30 days as against the 15 days allowed in ordinary criminal cases.

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