The Gauhati High Court recently made an important intervention in the evolving jurisprudence on the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The high court upheld the verdict of a special NIA Court which granted bail to Assamese anti-CAA activist Akhil Gogoi, who had been charged in 2019 under UAPA.
UAPA is meant to be used as a law to combat terror. It has stringent provisions that make bail impossible if a court feels charges are prima facie true. Given the loose wording of UAPA, it has turned into a tool that governments have begun to frequently use to stifle democratic protests.
In this context, the Gauhati High Court observed that civil disturbance which arises out of protests cannot be considered acts of terror. One way of understanding this verdict is that the high court has reiterated that UAPA cannot be used casually. The higher standards for bail under UAPA serves as a punishment even if the state fails to secure a conviction, which is what has happened in most UAPA cases.
Also read: ‘Civil disturbance can’t be UAPA offence’: HC upholds bail to Akhil Gogoi
India’s experience with draconian laws has been an unhappy one. Eventually, governments tend to use it to stifle dissent rather than safeguard the integrity of the state. The judicial system needs to ensure accountability.
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