Ahead of European Parliament trip to India on security, human rights defenders brief European decision-makers on UAPA

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Press release

Brussels, November 30 2022

On November 29, Indian human rights defenders (HRDs) briefed European decision-makers about the need for the international community to demand the repeal of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Among the HRDs speaking were Avinash Kumar, former head of Amnesty India, V Suresh, National General Secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Babloo Loitongbam, Director of Manipur-based Human Rights Alert, and Lara Jesani, Bombay High Court advocate. 

The online briefing was attended by policy advisors in the European Parliament, including of the Parliament’s Standing Rapporteur on India, advisors in the German Parliament, human rights experts in the European Commission, and human rights NGOs and researchers from around the world. 

The briefing comes in the run-up to a visit to India next summer of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Security and Defence. The EU and India have concluded a strategic partnership on on counter-terrorism, including counter-radicalisation, anti-money-laundering and countering terrorism financing, which the visit next year is expected to focus on.

Issues of concern at the briefing included the definition of “unlawful activity”, which is overly inclusive, and does not require violence or even an act to have been committed. Most UAPA accused are charged with conspiracy, with no actual terrorist act having been committed. Notably, 64% of conspiracy charges do not refer to a specific incident.

The UAPA is overly broad and defines even exploration of secession as terrorism. In a state like Manipur, where historical trauma of denied self-determination has not been addressed, this means that a political question is conflated with a counterterrorism issue.

– Babloo Loitongbam

Additionally, the UAPA reverses the burden of proof and requires the accused to prove they are innocent. However, evidence is not disclosed to the accused, and evidence has been fabricated. “The police arrested human rights defender Anand Teltumbde and others based on certain documents, which were later on found to be tampered. Evidence was planted in the devices of the accused,” said Lara Jesani.

Sharing findings from the first extensive report on the UAPA, conducted by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, the briefing highlighted that only 2.8% of people arrested in UAPA cases since 2009 have been convicted. However, their acquittals come only after the accused has spent several years in pre-trial custody without bail. In one case, an auto rickshaw driver from Tripura was falsely arrested under the UAPA. After spending four years in pre-trial custody, the judge discharged him, stating: “I fail to understand why this accused was arrested in the first place at all.” Similarly, when the Delhi High Court acquitted two young female students charged with conspiracy when they protested against the Citizenship Amendment Act, it stated: “We are constrained to express, that it seems, that in its anxiety to suppress dissent, in the mind of the state, the line between the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity seems to be getting somewhat blurred. If this mindset gains traction, it would be a sad day for democracy.”

India recently received praise for its leadership of the UN Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee. In October, it hosted the “Delhi Declaration”, which calls for “urgent action to prevent and counter terrorism in all its forms and manifestations”. This praise is a worrying development, as the UAPA as India’s primary counterterrorism legislation has been widely condemned. 80% of all UAPA cases since 2005 have been registered and investigated since Modi’s BJP took power. “You cannot become a bigger terrorizing factor to the population, in the name of fighting terrorism,” Babloo Loitongbam highlighted.

In 2020, several UN Special Rapporteurs criticised that the UAPA does not comply with set international standards for counter-terrorism legislation. Earlier this year, Members of the European Parliament twice expressed serious concern about the UAPA in open letters to Prime Minister Modi, and demanded its repeal. Several countries condemned the UAPA at the recent peer-review of UN member states’ human rights record at the United Nations. Among the countries expressing concern were several EU member states, with Estonia calling to “carefully review” the UAPA “to ensure freedom of expression, assembly and association and the protection of civil society organisations and human rights defenders”, and Belgium calling to “repeal or revise” the UAPA “to ensure the right to freedom of expression in conformity with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”. 

The briefing appreciated such international statements, and called for similar actions.

In the last year, we have had more political parties calling for nothing less than a repeal of the UAPA. Pressures from the ground and pressures from outside India are actually having an impact.

– V Suresh

While the Indian regime is internationally trying to present itself as a champion for democracy and telling other countries that it is not the time for war, it is also waging war against its own citizens. This hypocrisy needs to be called out by those champions in democracy sitting in the West, who are also engaging with the Indian government on a whole range of other issues, such as commerce.

– Avinash Kumar