Updated: July 3, 2021 9:17:24 am
The NIA special court order clearing Akhil Gogoi, a prominent leader of the anti-CAA movement in Assam and currently MLA from Sibsagar constituency, and three others, of sedition and UAPA charges is a damning indictment of the country’s premier investigation agency. The court said there was no “prima facie materials to frame charges against the accused persons” and found the “conduct and approach of the investigating authority/prosecution in this case, to be discouraging, to say the least”.
Gogoi was arrested at the peak of the anti-CAA protests in Assam in December 2019. He was accused of charges including sedition, association with Maoist groups, terrorism and so on. He was held in prison for 19 months and contested the Assam assembly elections from jail. The NIA opposed his bail at the Gauhati High Court and the Supreme Court on the ground that he was held under UAPA. The special court, however, dismissed each of the charges made against him and, in fact, found the evidence produced by the NIA to be contradicting its claims. For instance, analysing the NIA evidence against Gogoi for incitement to violence, the judge found that “he is exhorting people not to indulge in violence and seems to be doing so fervently”. Similarly, it found no prima facie materials to frame charges against Gogoi for any offence of conspiracy, abetment, advocacy of terrorism or threatening the integrity of the country. Clearly, the UAPA and various other criminal provisions had been weaponised by the NIA to silence a political activist who was protesting a government policy and mobilising people to support his stand.
Unfortunately, Gogoi’s case is not exceptional but points to a pattern where anti-terror and sedition laws are abused by state agencies to crack down on legitimate forms of dissent and protests by civil society groups and non-mainstream political activists. Since UAPA has stringent bail conditions, the accused, in most cases, end up spending a long time in prison awaiting trial. It is welcome that courts across the country are now raising the bar on sedition and UAPA and have asked state agencies to be sensitive to the letter and spirit of the law as well as the rights of citizens. In this context, the NIA court’s observation that “if the criminal justice system, for some reason, is unable to give bail to an accused, his trial should preferably be completed within an year, so that his constitutional and human rights of presumption of innocence and speedy trial is not violated” calls for serious deliberation.
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