‘Prevention of Unlawful Acts Act‘ I.e. ‘UAPA‘Many have been imprisoned since 2014, Of these, 95.4 per cent were not prosecuted. So, should we be glad that the provision of treason is gone??
We hear that treason cases have increased since 2010. How much did it cost and what was the result? From 2010 to date, Indians have spent a total of 3 million hours in prison on ‘treason charges’. Needless to say most of them are raw prisoners. An accused has to spend 50 days in jail until the sessions court grants bail. Article 14 is an association of lawyers, scholars and citizens who have extensively studied treason cases. The data from this study are in line with the figures in the National Crime Records Bureau annual report. It is estimated that more than 13,000 Indians have been jailed for treason since 2010.
Due to such uncontrolled use, there have been calls for many years to amend or repeal Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which means ‘treason law’. The Supreme Court’s order on May 11 suspending this clause in this regard is certainly welcome. However, the Attorney General (Solicitor General) of India testified before the Supreme Court that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had expressed his desire to reconsider the 152-year-old colonial treason law, which is celebrated as ‘freedom’ this year. Ka Amrit Mahotsav ‘, is definitely hopeful. But why is it necessary to carefully welcome that review evidence?
There are many reasons for this caution, in fact, the sense of suspicion behind it. They are already there, but even in the 2019 election campaign, the BJP has cracked down on Congress for promising to remove black laws such as treason and the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act or Military Privileges Act). Referring to the promises made in the Congress manifesto, Modi described the entire manifesto as a “document of Pakistani conspiracies” and accused the Congress of “destabilizing the country” and conspiring to “demoralize the soldiers”. Of course, while there may be a discrepancy between the Prime Minister’s speeches and the government’s intentions, this argument can be taken into account. However, available data show that those in power are more inclined to blame those who oppose them. The Article 14 study found that 2,862 people were charged with treason during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act; In the 2021 peasant movement, 133 (including peasants and representatives of the people at various levels); A treason case was registered against 42 people after the Pulwama attack. In the last seven years, 59 journalists have been charged with treason for criticizing the government over three new agricultural laws, central government policies during the coronation, Hathras gang rape, citizenship law and other cases. Since 2014, the number of treason cases has increased by 28% annually.
Since this has been the case for the past eight years dealing with ‘treason’ or branding the Opposition as a direct traitor, the government’s intentions are questionable. But perhaps now that the ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ is over, let us understand that the government has changed its mind. Yet why should the government’s statement that ‘reconsider the treason provision’ be carefully welcomed? It must be admitted that this ‘scholarly skepticism’ is based on statistics, but what is the point of scholars being optimistic and optimistic?
That is true. Nevertheless movements are necessary to eliminate treason, it would be better if it happened, but the removal of Article 124A and the implementation of such a decision would be only a partial solution. Because even in the absence of treason – Section 124A, the so-called anti-UAPA law remains in force and over the past few years there have been attempts to criminalize dissidents, depending on the implementation of the UAPA. With the repeal of Article 124A the government will achieve moral victory but virtually nothing will change. There are two reasons for this.
First, the treason law under Section 124A is part of the Indian Penal Code, which contains punitive provisions, security measures and constitutional measures. Bail (compared to ‘UAPA’) is very simple, advance bail is provided, the police have to file a chargesheet within 90 days, otherwise the arrested accused has the right to get bail etc. These legal protections are not available to those arrested under the UAPA. It has much stricter regulations than the original Anti-Terrorism Act. UAPA, for example, allows detention for up to 180 days without a charge sheet. Under this law, if the accused is arrested, the “burden of proof” falls on the accused, who has already been convicted and is liable. Prove his innocence. This made it difficult to get bail.
One month ago, the Allahabad High Court granted bail to three Kashmiri students accused of ‘treason’ for making pro-Pakistan statements during a T20 cricket match. Justice Ajay Bhanot clarified: “Indian unity is not a straw or a bamboo. It is bent by hollow statements. The foundation of our country is strong.” Bail for ‘UAPA’ accused has become almost impossible due to the verdict in the case of Zahoor Ahmed Khan Vatali (known as ‘Vatali Nickel-2019’). Defendants in the ‘Bhima Koregaon’ or Delhi riots have been denied bail several times, which is one of the reasons behind it.
The second reason is that the penalty rate is higher in treason law. The number of arrests under the treason law may have increased, but the conviction rate was 2.25 percent lower. Of the 399 cases registered between 2014 and 2020, only nine were convicted. Chargesheets were filed in only 169 of the registered cases, according to Home Ministry figures. It shows that if those in power want to imprison political or ideological opponents, the ‘sedition law’ will not be too strict, but the ‘UAPA’ will be more useful to such authorities.
At first glance, the indictment rate is higher among UAPA defendants. Between 2014 and 2020, 27.5 percent of cases were convicted, according to National Crime Records Bureau figures. Worse, very few cases reach the criminal stage. Only 4.5 percent of the 6,900 cases were investigated over a seven-year period. And no one talks about cases that have been ‘under investigation’ for a long time. Between 2014 and 2020, at the end of each year, 95.4 percent of cases were thus pending.
Many of those charged with treason have also been charged under UAPA – Omar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, Tahir Hussain, Siddique Kappan .. They are still in the room.
Those in custody under the Treason Act are likely to be granted immediate bail as per the directions given by the Supreme Court on May 11. However, retired Delhi High Court judge Manmohan Singh has said that this is not the case with those facing charges even under the UAPA.
Today there is an atmosphere of uncertainty regarding civil rights in our country. While it is true that repealing the treason law in this situation would make some progress, if the law, such as the UAPA, which is often the road roller on civil rights, is used frequently and against political or ideological opponents, the progress made by repealing the treason provision will not work. Should he be happy that the treason clause will be removed at such a time or should he cast doubt on the ‘UAPA’?
The author teaches Political Science at Janaki Devi College, University of Delhi.