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UAPA: the reward for pointing fingers


Lawyers' fact-finding team in Tripura/Image via Live Law

The Biplab Deb government in Tripura has set a new record for misuse of the law. A case under UAPA was filed against the lawyers who submitted the fact-finding report regarding the communal violence that took place on October 21; it can be said to be the result of convenient ignorance or contempt for justice and law. The fact-finding team consisting of lawyers confirmed what everyone knew through the local media and others, backed up with evidence and testimony. As the attempts of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal to stir up communal tensions over atrocities committed against the Hindu minority in Bangladesh succeeded, Muslim shops, masjids and homes in Tripura were destroyed partially or wholly. Some fled the area entirely. Communal parties continued to conduct a rally provocatively even after BJP government finally issued an order of restraint after staying silent for days. The unilateral attack began to turn into a riot. Things went to such a pass that Muslims began to rally for a counterattack. The Tripura High Court, seeing the grave state of affairs, took suo moto cognizance of the incident and asked the state government to file a detailed report. It was then that Adv. Mukesh of the People's Union For Civil Liberties, National Confederation for Human Rights member Adv. Ansar Indori, Adv. Amit Shrivastava of the Lawyers for Democracy organisation and Supreme Court Adv. Ehtesham Hashmi banded together to create a report on the matter by visiting the areas affected, interviewing people, and compiling fact-checked details on the atrocities committed by the groups involved. They released the report at a press conference in Delhi.It was following this that Adv. Mukesh and Adv.Ansari were charged under the UAPA.

This is not the first time that independent investigative teams have conducted their own report on communal tensions. Gandhiji himself did it in the Champaran incident. An investigation by the state's own police into a series of state-sponsored acts of violence will not be enough to directly detect or prevent a recurrence of violence. Here, the fact-finding team's findings put the blame on the Tripura police. The finding is that instead of attempting to allay the violence as they should, the police have been implicated in adding fuel to the fire. The High Court, which has filed the case suo moto has also demanded action against those who spread false news and rumours about the violence on social media. This order was conveniently twisted by the Tripura government and used to stifle criticism. The lawyers who held the press conference had shared their findings on social media; Relevant parts of the report were also released via Facebook Live. Earlier, when it was obvious that the communal unrest was likely to escalate into violence, Muslim leaders called on the chief minister to intervene to prevent the problem from escalating. The government did not budge.Then came the violence. It is the government that has encouraged open xenophobia by inaction while banning propaganda and gossip and preventing violence. The Tripura government only took to suppressing those who speak the truth when things had come nearly under control after the intervention of the court and activists. Twitter accounts that share victims' complaints are also banned.

Authorities justify application of UAPA with the argument that there was an attempt to to create tensions and incite hatred. Firstly, investigators came to the fore after the communal party campaigned, rallied and resorted to creating tensions without any interruption by the government. There is nothing subjective about the style of the investigation or the style of the report. Therefore, UAPA is not warranted for such an act. Even if it is accepted for the sake of argument that they tried to create tensions, there are ample provisions in the Indian Penal Code to deal with that, without any need for invoking UAPA. Here the matter is something else. The report establishes the failure of the government and the police as the chief cause of violence. The right to criticize the government is the soul of democratic freedom. But the BJP's response to criticism in the style of governance is not through self-reflection and correction, but through revenge. Those, from the journalist who arrives for the news to the lawyers who tell the truth, become the victims. Their sole purpose is to prevent anyone from criticizing them. The UAPA is the BJP's answer to how the law itself can be used to undermine the rule of law.

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TAGS:Tripura violenceFact-finding teamUAPA for speaking truthprotests at Bangla violence
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