A law against liberty

The Lok Sabha has quietly amended the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, a dangerous tool in the hands of any government

When two young women were arrested for a Facebook post questioning the shutdown in Mumbai for Bal Thackeray's funeral, middle-class fury forced the Maharashtra government to drop the case and suspend two police officers.The Centre also issued a set of guidelines to avoid misuse of the controversial Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. However, even as calls for repeal of the "vague" and "wide" provisions of the IT law that are "susceptible to wanton abuse" grew louder, the government silently pushed through much more controversial amendments to the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in the Lok Sabha, making it further mirror previous draconian laws like POTA and TADA.

The amendments did not merely make this law more stringent; they have made law enforcement agencies less accountable, despite substantial proof of misuse. The government had, in fact, brought in several amendments to give "anti-terror teeth" to the UAPA coinciding with the repeal of POTA in 2004, and more stringent amendments were pushed through in the backdrop of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

The vast scope for the misuse of the amendments to the UAPA has been articulated in the recent citizens' appeal to members of the Rajya Sabha, issued by the Jamia Teachers' Solidarity Association (JTSA), which has been endorsed by several senior civil rights groups, scholars and activists. The appeal has questioned five aspects of the amended law.

The broad definition of person, especially as "an association of persons or a body of individuals, whether incorporated or not" is open to misuse because "this will actually allow agencies and government to create persons beyond that what are recognised by law and any group of friends/ acquaintances can be labelled an association of persons or a body of individuals by the agencies and the government" like a "book reading club to friends who meet every evening at a dhaba may be deemed to be an association of persons or a body of individuals".

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