IN a press statement issued on September 28, five petitioners – Romila Thapar, Devaki Jain, Prabhat Patnaik, Satish Deshpande and Maja Daruwala said that they approached the Supreme Court when five well-known lawyers, journalists and civil rights activists were arrested across the country on August 28 and charged with abetting acts of terror under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
“Our intention was to draw the attention of the judiciary to what we believe is a case of gross misuse of the state’s powers under draconian laws like the UAPA. Our history as a republic shows that, if left unchecked, such misuse causes grave injustices and endangers the civil liberties of all Indians,” they said.
Those arrested on August 28 have been accused of being implicated in acts of terrorism. However, the petitioners believe that there are two kinds of terrorism both of which create fear and undermine the foundations of our democracy: The violent acts of those described as terrorists, who plant bombs, instigate people to be violent, engineer riots and deliberately spread fear through their acts; and the illegal or unjustified acts of state functionaries who, instead of pursuing the actual perpetrators of violence, misuse their powers to harass those who do not conform to the politics of their current masters.
When the state uses anti-terror laws without adequate proof against persons known to be working for the rights of the weaker sections of society, it is also spreading a kind of terror. Arbitrary arrests on implausible charges, like those of August 28, are a source of anxiety for us all. They mean that the police can walk into our homes and arrest us – either without a warrant, or a warrant written in a language we don’t understand – and then accuse us of activities about which we know nothing.
It has always been assumed that a genuine democracy will respect the constitutional and legal rights of every citizen, including the right to hold opinions different from – or even in opposition to – those of the government of the day. Since these arrests follow similar arrests made in June, the arrests of August 28 point to a continuing attempt to erode these rights.
“Our petition was essentially an appeal to the Supreme Court to check this erosion of rights and protect the liberty and dignity of human rights activists. Today’s judgment has provided protection to the activists for a further period of four weeks and has given them the liberty to seek remedy from the appropriate courts. Our stand in this case finds vindication in the dissenting opinion of Justice Dr DY Chandrchud who has categorically held that liberty cannot be sacrificed at the altar of conjecture, and that the police had been taking liberties with the truth and besmirching the reputation of the activists by doing a media trial. Under such circumstances, the police’s ability to conduct a free, fair and impartial investigation is in serious doubt, as has been held by Chandrachud,” they said.
The petitioners were pleased to note that at least the liberty and dignity of the human rights activists has for the time being not been jeopardised and the Supreme Court has protected the same.