India: Repeal/withdraw 'Anti-terror' Bills


After the Mumbai attacks govt to curb remaining democratic rights

We, the following organizations had gone through the full texts of the two "anti-terror bills" that have recently been passed in both houses of parliament and the stated objectives and reasons for promulgation of such acts.

While expressing our deep anguish and condemnation in no uncertain terms of Mumbai incident of November,2008 and other similar acts of violence on the citizens of India , we note with concern that taking advantage of such acts, the Government of India and political society as such have been increasingly using military language to emphasize the urgency of the situation and trying to introduce a distinct repressive turn in the politics of criminal justice of our country , manifested in the security legislations and law enforcement measures, such as TADA, POTA, and very recently. The Unlawful Activities (prevention) Amendment Bill, and the National Investigation Agency Bill, 2008.

While assuming that we are living in a risk society, we are wondering why after the Mumbai incident in particular, about which our neighbouring country, Pakistan has been squarely held responsible by the Government and the Media, did political society pass such legislations in a quickest possible manner, which are exclusively meant for citizens of India.

We do not agree to the perception that the protection of human rights stand in opposition to effective action against "terrorism". We hold that that the challenge of the State is not to promote security at the expense of human rights, but rather to ensure that all people enjoy respect for the full range of rights. We do hold that the action against "terrorism" can be pursued without compromise or without undermining the human rights.

We are constrained to argue that the claim of the Government regarding the newly introduced bills about safeguards 'against any possible misuse of such provisions" is a false commitment since there is no such safeguard incorporated in the bills. Rather Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment (UAPA) has structurally infringed on human rights in a number of ways--developing exceptions to human rights based on the seriousness of the offence, expanding the definitions of exceptional categories and arguing that curtailment of a human right is necessary for the promotion of human rights of other individuals, and propounding a "duties and responsibilities based citizenry" thesis.

Our concerns in respect of these bills include -
i) Vague and broad definitions of "terrorism" in these bills would inevitably lead to infringement of the freedom of expression and the freedom of association;
ii) Insertion of new clauses to the section 43 of the principal Act, UAPA, which include power of arrest, search at any time of houses of any person on the basis of any document, any article would only result in harassment, illegal detention and other violations of human rights;
iii) Permitting longer detention of "terror suspects" up to 180 days which would allow the investigating agencies to detain people without charge and trial and would get ample scope for using false evidence, and additional blank check permission of taking a detained person from judicial custody to police custody at any point of time would further aggravate/facilitate torture;
iv) Permitting harsh and tough procedures for the detained person to obtain bail which curtails the rights of the accused;
V) Permitting absolute denial of bail to foreign nationals, which destroys the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality and the principle of fair trial;
VI) Most importantly, permitting reversal of age-old pillar of natural justice regarding the presumption of innocence would show disrespect to the most basic principles of fair trial;
VII) Permitting more tough and difficult procedures pertaining to sanction for prosecution against erring and delinquent investigating officers, which would only enhance the culture of impunity.
VIII) Permitting curtailment of appeal period by the accused, which seriously jeopardizes the rights of the accused in getting fairness in the process of the administration of justice;
IX) Permitting anonymous witnesses, which would limit and suspend the rights of the accused to examine the witnesses on same terms as the prosecution?

To sum up, these bills under review, indicate a spirit of minimalism, particularly in the arena of the rights of suspects and defendants in the criminal process; the bills seriously limit, suspend, undermine and even destroy certain non-derogable rights, as recognized by International Laws and Covenants. In the name of security, the entire population would henceforth be viewed and considered as "possible terrorists" / "terror suspects" and are bound to live in an atmosphere of insecurity, fear and of intimidation, which in turn would defeat the very declared purpose of the bills - to ensure the security of population.

These bills restrict human rights in such a way that calls into question the basic principles of rule of law, India's commitment to international laws and standards relating to promotion and upholding of human rights. These bills have condensed all the power in the hands of a single branch of the government, thereby have undermined the ideologies of importance of individual rights, the separation of powers, process of judicial review of such security legislations. Our experiences have shown that these security measures only help strengthen tyranny.

With these observations, we are demanding the unconditional repeal of these two draconian bills. We do hold that under the existing laws, effective action against 'terrorism' could be taken.