The Delhi Police on Tuesday booked Jamia Millia Islamia students Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar, along with activist Umar Khalid under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for conspiring the Northeast Delhi riots, which took lives of more than 50 people and left more than hundred injured and displaced. Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar are Research Scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia and were associated with Jamia Coordination Committee (JCC) which was looking after the Anti-CAA protest at Jamia.
Earlier, Masrat Zahra, freelance photojournalist from Kashmir was booked under UAPA for her alleged “anti-national” social media posts. On April 18, the Delhi Police filed a chargesheet against JNU student Sharjeel Imam with charges of sedition for his alleged role in Jamia violence which took place on December 15, 2019. According to reports, he is charged for his speech which caused violence in New Friends Colony and nearby localities on December 15.
On April 14, Dalit Rights activists Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde were detained after the Supreme Court rejected their anticipatory bail plea in the Bhima Koregaon case. These two along with nine others—Sudha Bhardwaj, Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferriera and Sudhir Dhawale—are booked in Bhima Koregaon case for allegedly conspiring against the State. Chingiz Khan, Research Scholar at Centre For Historical Studies at JNU, was arrested on April 10 by Manipur Police on charges of sedition for writing a newspaper article.
These arrests and bookings under draconian laws like UAPA and Sedition come in a time when the world is faced with a global pandemic, and every country is putting all its might to contain the spread of the coronavirus which has caused the death of more than 1.5 lakhs people across the globe. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted the worst economic recession since the Great Depression of 1930s due to the pandemic. In developing countries like India, where the majority of people are engaged in the unorganised and informal sector, the lockdown has caused job loss for daily wagers and migrant workers, leading to a socio-economic crisis for poor families.
We are in extraordinary times which require extraordinary measures to check the deadly COVID-19 virus and its impact. In India, on the contrary, we are witnessing unprecedented use of extraordinary draconian laws in times of Health emergency, which is alarming. Civil societies, Human Rights groups and intellectuals have condemned the recent arrests and termed it a “politically motivated” attack on Free Speech and Expression. People associated with the Film Industry, including Mahesh Bhatt, Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bhardwaj, Vishal Dadlani, Zeeshan Ayyub and more than a dozen others, issued a joint statement against the arrests of Anti-CAA Activists amidst the Lockdown.
Earlier this year, when the country was gripped with Anti-CAA protests in different parts, we had seen instances of sedition charges being made against Anti-CAA protesters too. Amulya, a young girl from Bengaluru, was charged with sedition for raising “Pakistan Zindabad” slogan in an Anti-CAA protest rally on February 20. In January, a teacher and a parent at a school in Karnataka’s Bidar were arrested for an alleged seditious play by a school kid criticising CAA. Similarly, there had been other cases too where sedition charges were used to curb Anti-CAA protests. In Jharkhand’s Wasseypur, 3000 people were slapped with sedition charges for participating in Anti-CAA protest, and it was only after an intervention by the newly-elected Chief Minister Hemant Soren that the charges were dropped.
With just four months into the year 2020, we have come across numerous instances where these extraordinary Anti-Terror laws have been used against students, activists and political agitators. It is just a coincidence that the colonial-era Sedition law completes 150 years in India in 2020; Section 124 (A) of the Indian Penal Code(IPC) which deals with sedition was brought by the British in 1870. Many people might find it fascinating to know that England, which introduced sedition charges in India, has already abolished this law in 2009 citing it as a hindrance in the Freedom of Speech and Expression, while we still continue with this colonial baggage.
Over the years, there has been debates on the misuse of Anti-Terror laws, leading to Human Rights violation and long pending demand by Rights Group and Civil Societies to scrap UAPA and Sedition. In the past, we have seen how Acts like Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) and Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) were discontinued in the year 1995 and 2004 respectively. However, over the past few years, there has been an increase in use of these laws which is a disturbing trend for a healthy democracy.