India urged to reject changes in anti-terror law
New York: The Indian Parliament should reject proposed amendments to its counterterrorism act that could lead to further misuse of the draconian law, Human Rights Watch has said.
Parliament should call on the government to withdraw the amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 (UAPA), which is scheduled for a vote in the Rajya Sabha on Monday.
On November 30, the Lok Sabha passed the amendments to the UAPA, India's principal counter-terrorism law, without significant input or scrutiny from the general public or civil society groups.
The amendments would allow the government broad leeway to increase bans on proscribed organisations to five years and widen the definition of a person to any association of individuals.
"While India has a responsibility to protect citizens from terror attacks, the counter-terrorism law has long been abused to detain suspects for excessive periods, file charges on fabricated evidence, and ban organisations without due process of law," said Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
"These amendments will make the law an even more dangerous tool in the hands of officials who seek to oppress peaceful critics and minority communities."
The proposed amendments expand the definition of the "person" who can be charged under the law to include "an association of persons or a body of individuals, whether incorporated or not".
Human Rights Watch expressed concern that this would allow the police to charge an individual merely on the grounds of contact with a suspect.
"Extending the ban on groups from two to five years without a court determination is a recipe for abuse," Ganguly said.
"The police and investigating agencies could arrest people for being part of a banned organisation even though a court never found it to be involved in terrorism."
The amendments also expand the definition of "terrorist act" to include acts that threaten the economic security of India and damage its monetary stability by production, smuggling, or circulation of "high quality" counterfeit currency.
These crimes are not recognised terrorism offenses and are already covered by the Indian Penal Code.
Including them under a more stringent counterterrorism law seems intended to make obtaining bail more difficult and to allow for a longer pre-charge detention period, Human Rights Watch said.