Itanagar: The Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) on Wednesday condemned the recent application of the Arunachal Pradesh Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 2014 (APUAPA) by the Capital district administration during the 72-hour state-wide bandh call.
Gauhati High Court advocate Ebo Mili, who also represents the organisation, said that the Act bears striking similarities to the draconian law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 (UAPA), which has a troubling history rooted in colonial India and the suppression of freedom fighters.
“While the UAPA 1967 was initially introduced with the intention to combat terrorism and unlawful activities that pose a threat to the country, it has often been misused by the government to stifle dissent and target activists, journalists and other individuals exercising their fundamental rights,” Mili said.
The act grants unchecked power to the government, allowing arbitrary detention of any person involved and thereby curtails the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of India, particularly those outlined in Article 22, which provides protection against arbitrary arrest and detention, he added.
The advocate informed that disturbingly the number of UAPA cases has been on the rise since 2015.
According to a Scroll article by Umang Poddar, there were 897 cases in 2015, which escalated to 1,226 cases in 2019. The number of arrests under this act has also drastically increased with 1,948 individuals arrested in 2019 compared to 1,128 in 2015, representing a staggering 72 percent rise, he pointed out.
“The Arunachal Pradesh UAPA 2014 follows a similar pattern, providing the state government with unrestricted power to detain any person for up to 12 days, with the possibility of extended detention upon approval by the government, as stated in Section 3 (2) of the Act,” he said.
While every case of detention is presented before an advisory board consisting of retired High Court judges recommended by the Chief Justice of India and not less than two members appointed by the state government, Section 10(4) prohibits legal practitioners from appearing on behalf of the detained person in any matter connected to the reference made to the board.
“It is evident that the provisions outlined in the APUAPA leave room for abuse and manipulation by the government, enabling them to target individuals without proper safeguards or legal representation. As concerned citizens and intellectuals of Arunachal Pradesh, I believe it is our duty to condemn and discourage and request the intellectuals to condemn and not encourage the use of such draconian laws,” he said.
“This is the first time that the APAUPA act has been used in such a manner. If we don’t condemn today, this will encourage the government to use it casually in every other case to target and that’s how it has been misused to keep political prisoners,” Mili added.
The HRLN urged the government to reassess the application of the Act and address its concerning provisions.
“We already possess a sufficient array of laws and acts to effectively apprehend and prosecute offenders, with ample room for judicial intervention, thereby negating the need for granting excessive powers to the government,” the organisation said.
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It further urged the government to treat every offender equally, not just pick on people who are not politically backed or are weak citizens. It also referred to last year’s bandh declared by the All Nyishi Youth Association (ANYA) where the executive members were detained and then released with fair warning.
“While poor students and citizens were arrested and booked under several non-bailable sections. Why were these poor students not given fair warning? Why such disparity? Is the law only for the weaker citizens?” the HRLN questioned.
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