Court correction

Source: Indian Express

Relevance: Weaponisation of UAPA and similar laws, is a big issue.

Synopsis: The NIA special court order on Akhil Gogoi should serve as a warning against weaponising sedition, anti-terror laws.

Background
  • Earlier, Akhil Gogoi, a prominent leader of the anti-CAA movement in Assam, was booked under sedition and UAPA charges
  • Akhil Gogoi was also accused of having association with Maoist groups, terrorism, etc.,
  • He was held in prison for 19 months and contested the Assam assembly elections from jail.
  • The NIA opposed his bail at the Gauhati High Court and the Supreme Court on the ground that he was held under UAPA.
  • Recently, The NIA special court that took up the hearing, dismissed each of the charges made against Akhil Gogoi and three others.
Why the charges were dismissed?
  • The court said there were no “prima facie materials to frame charges against the accused persons” and found the “conduct and approach of the investigating agency, in this case, to be discouraging.
  • For instance, analysing the NIA evidence against Gogoi for incitement to violence, the judge found that “he is exhorting people not to indulge in violence and seems to be doing so fervently”.
  • Similarly, it found no prima facie materials to frame charges against Gogoi for any offence of conspiracy, abetment, advocacy of terrorism, or threatening the integrity of the country.
Misuse of UAPA and Sedition laws
  • Clearly, the UAPA and various other criminal provisions had been weaponised by the NIA to silence a political activist, protesting a government policy and mobilising people to support his stand.
  • Gogoi’s case is not an exception, many times anti-terror and sedition laws are abused by state agencies to crack down on legitimate forms of dissent and protests by civil society groups.
Way forward
  • Since UAPA has stringent bail conditions, the accused, in most cases, end up spending a long time in prison awaiting trial.
  • In this context, the NIA court observed that “if the criminal justice system, for some reason, is unable to give bail to an accused, his trial should preferably be completed within a year.
  • This is to ensure that his constitutional and human rights of presumption of innocence and speedy trial are not violated.
  • Court’s directives need to be widely deliberated. Such moves can help to safeguard innocent citizen’s rights.
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