Mohammed Irfan was 24 and newly married. Enterprise was brisk at his modest battery store. And inside two months, he was anticipating the start of his first baby.
All appeared effectively, till a counterterrorism squad in August 2012 entered his retailer in Nanded, a metropolis in India’s Maharashtra state, and arrested him for allegedly plotting to kill Indian politicians.
For the primary few months, he waited for India’s authorized system to show his innocence. However the prospects of an acquittal quickly turned grim when he was charged underneath the nation’s harsh anti-terror regulation, the Illegal Actions Prevention Act (UAPA).
The regulation permits authorities to designate somebody as a “terrorist” and detain them with out producing any incriminating proof. It additionally has stringent necessities for granting bail, which implies people usually spend months, typically years, in jail with out being discovered responsible.
Irfan was lastly launched in June 2021 after an Indian courtroom acknowledged he was wrongly jailed. By then, he had already spent 9 years in jail.
“These 9 years had been at least a demise sentence,” he mentioned.
Rising frequency, low convictions
Irfan’s acquittal got here because the UAPA faces intensified scrutiny from Indian courts and authorized consultants.
The UAPA was first launched in 2008 by the now-opposition Congress celebration. In 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s authorities amended the regulation, permitting authorities to classify people as terrorists. Beforehand, the designation was reserved just for organisations.
Successive Indian governments have invoked the regulation however latest years have seen it used with growing frequency.
Based mostly on knowledge from India’s Nationwide Crime Data Bureau, 1,948 individuals had been arrested underneath the regulation in 2019 – a rise of practically 37 % from the earlier yr.
The elevated use, nonetheless, has not led to many convictions and trials.
Solely 2.2 % of circumstances registered underneath the regulation from 2016 to 2019 resulted in a courtroom conviction. Practically 11 % of circumstances had been closed by the police for lack of proof.
Final week, the federal government knowledgeable parliament that simply 22 % of individuals arrested underneath the regulation from 2017 to 2019 had been despatched to trial. It mentioned no prices had been filed to this point within the remaining circumstances.
“That is tragic,” mentioned Madan B Lokur, a former justice on India’s Supreme Court docket.
“A regulation to deal with terrorism is critical, however its provisions are fairly imprecise and can be utilized indiscriminately to crush dissent,” Lokur mentioned. “In reality, it has been misused and abused.”
In July, Justice Dhananjaya Yeshwant Chandrachud, a sitting Supreme Court docket choose, mentioned the courts should act because the “first line of defence towards the deprivation of liberty of residents,” amplifying the controversy about whether or not the regulation ought to proceed in its present type.
India’s house ministry didn’t reply to requests for remark.
Father Stan Swamy’s demise
The federal government argues the UAPA regulation is critical to battle terrorism. In 2019, Residence Minister Amit Shah instructed parliament the regulation was important to maintain safety companies “one step forward of terrorists”.
However final month, whereas awaiting bail on medical grounds, an 84-year-old Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist died in judicial custody. He had been jailed since 2020 underneath the anti-terror regulation.
The demise of Father Stan Swamy touched a nerve.
“How can an outdated, frail man who fought for individuals’s rights be accused of terrorism?” mentioned Father Cedric Prakash, an activist who labored with Swamy for greater than 40 years.
Swamy was jailed alongside 15 different activists and teachers. He maintained his innocence, saying he was singled out for his work and writings on caste injustice and the struggles confronted by marginalised teams.
However authorities alleged that these arrested had hyperlinks to Maoist rebels and had been detained “following due strategy of the regulation”.
The Maoist rebels, also referred to as Naxalites, are energetic in a number of states and are thought of the nation’s greatest inside safety menace.
Carolyn Nash, the Asia advocacy director at rights watchdog Amnesty Worldwide, mentioned Swamy’s demise in custody was “a chilling and tragic instance of how the UAPA facilitates the federal government’s human rights abuses” and was proof of its “disproportionate and abusive use”.
‘Just one resolution: The regulation should go’
Some in India are calling for reform.
Lokur pressured that police and investigators should be held accountable and mentioned heavy prices needs to be imposed on them for “frivolous arrests.”
“The denial of bail underneath the regulation definitely favours the state. This interpretation should be revisited,” he mentioned.
“The judiciary must be proactive on this regard and should realise that it’s coping with circumstances of private liberty which is being snatched away in some situations with none trigger.”
Others, a few of whom have been arrested underneath the regulation, say accountability alone won’t be sufficient and demand the regulation’s repeal.
“A draconian regulation that erodes individuals’s civil liberties shouldn’t be wanted in a democracy,” mentioned Asif Iqbal Tanha, a scholar chief jailed underneath the regulation who was launched on hardly ever granted bail in June.
Earlier than his arrest in Might final yr, Tanha, 24, had participated in substantial protests towards the federal government’s controversial citizenship regulation which culminated in lethal riots within the Indian capital.
Many activists had been arrested in a sweeping crackdown for “inciting violence” and Tanha was charged underneath the anti-terror regulation.
A yr later, when the courtroom granted him bail, it noticed that dissent shouldn’t be terrorism.
“It was a vindication of types. However is that sufficient? I don’t suppose so,” Tanha mentioned. “There is just one resolution: The regulation should go.”