The UAPA amendments: What it really means -Nitika Khaitan
The changes empower the government to designate individuals as terrorists, merely if it believes so
On August 8, 2019, the President assented to amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967, introducing a set of changes to an already draconian law. The most fundamental of these changes empowers the government to designate individuals as terrorists, merely if it believes so, leaving little to no recourse for them to protest their designation. Strangely, the amendments do not explicitly detail any new consequences of this change, making its purpose and its potential use hard to fathom.
When it was first enacted, the UAPA exclusively dealt with offences related to unlawful activities. It empowered the government to declare certain associations ”unlawful”, and broadly defined “unlawful” to include acts intended to disrupt the country’s sovereignty, cause disaffection against India, among other things. The Act had some safeguards—the government had to specify grounds for its ban, set up a tribunal of a high court judge to determine sufficient cause for the ban, and publish the Tribunal judgment in the gazette.
In 2004, anti-terror provisions were added to the UAPA, mostly drawn from the infamous Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) which had just been repealed. The government could now notify organisations as “terrorist” without giving reasons, or implementing any of the nominal safeguards available to “unlawful” associations. Individuals are now vulnerable to the same fate.
This is a new low, even for a law as riddled with constitutional infirmities as the UAPA. Since the Act criminalises membership of “unlawful” and “terrorist” organisations, coming forward to appeal the ban has always meant making oneself available for prosecution. Further, “terrorist act” has always been defined much more broadly than what is suggested in various United Nations instruments, enough to criminalise all kinds of constitutionally protected activity—including, in some cases, the mere possession of pamphlets professing ideologies disliked by the State.
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