SUPREME Court Judge Justice D.Y. Chandrachud recently stressed that anti-terror laws must not be used for suppressing dissent.
Speaking at the Indo-US Joint Summer Conference, Justice Chandrachud said, “Criminal law, including anti-terror legislation, should not be misused for quelling dissent or harassment of citizens. As I noted in my judgement in Arnab Goswami Vs the State(Maharashtra), our courts must ensure that they continue to remain the first line of defence against the deprivation of liberty of citizens.”
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“Today, the world’s oldest and largest democracy represents these ideals of a multicultural, pluralist society where their constitutions are focused on a deep commitment and respect for human rights,” he further said.
Referring to the actions taken by the Supreme Court for jailed undertrials, he said, “During the first wave of the pandemic in March 2020, the Supreme Court ordered all states to set up high-level committees, to consider releasing convicts on bail or parole, who had been jailed for up to seven years for no other reason except for them being undertrials or even convicts. The Court made a similar suggestion for those awaiting trials for offences carrying a maximum penalty of seven years. When the first wave subsided, those released were re-imprisoned.”
His remarks come at a time when there is a huge outrage over Fr. Stan Swamy’s death due to multiple denials of his medical bail by the NIA Court and the Bombay High Court. Swamy was booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act(UAPA) in Bhima Koregaon Violence Case. Many intellectuals and tribal rights activists had called his death “Judicial Murder”.
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Recently, there have been many acquittals of people who were booked and jailed for years under UAPA. Srinagar resident Bashir Ahmad Baba was acquitted after spending 11 years in Vadodara Central Jail. Assam peasant leader Akhil Gogoi was arrested for his role in the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protest and Tripura native Mohammad Habeeb was arrested in IISC Shooting Case were similarly acquitted.
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Last month, the Delhi High Court while granting bail to student activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha in the Delhi Riot Case criticised the government agencies for irresponsibly using anti-terror laws. The court then said, “the phrase ‘Terrorist Act’ must partake of the essential character of terrorism and cannot be permitted to be casually applied to criminal acts or omissions that fall squarely within the definition of conventional offences as defined inter alia under the Indian Penal Code.”
The article was originally published in The Leaflet.