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‘UAPA should be nixed’: Activists, experts welcome release of Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal, Asif Iqbal Tanha

Activist Sudhir Katiyar said it is saddening that a regime could stoop so low to destroy lives, but heartening that one of the pillars of the constitutional setup is standing firm. 

Published: 16th June 2021 03:56 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th June 2021 08:52 AM   |  A+A-

By Express News Service

NEW DELHI:  Student activists and bodies on Tuesday welcomed a Delhi High Court order granting bail to women’s collective Pinjra Tod members Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal and Jamia Millia Islamia student Asif Iqbal Tanha, who were arrested under the stringent UAPA in connection with a case related to the riots in the national capital last year.

Activist and secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) Kavita Krishnan said: “The bail order is welcome but long overdue. I think the main thing is that the allegation in itself is baseless —what the state is alleging amounts to protest, and not to terrorist activities. There is absolutely no basis for the cases. The whole investigation should be scrapped. There is a need to get rid of that charge sheet. The use of the UAPA also needs to stop. The order is important in that respect too.”

The bail is subjected to the personal bond of Rs 50,000 and two local sureties. The conditions for bail include surrendering of passports and not indulge in activities that would hamper the case.  Dalit rights activist Beena Pallical said: “This is a really good order... The UAPA has been constantly used as a weapon against progressive politics. People who have stood up and challenged the system have borne the brunt of it. The state cannot continue to use this for people standing up against the system. Keeping the activists in prison without any evidence produced in court in itself is a crime.”

Activist Sudhir Katiyar said it is saddening that a regime could stoop so low to destroy lives, but heartening that one of the pillars of the constitutional setup is standing firm. 

Safoora Zargar, a Jamia Millia Islamia scholar and co-accused in the UAPA case, said it was one of the happiest days of her life.

“Bail to Devangana, Natasha & Asif in UAPA case. Let more follow. Let justice prevail. Alhamdulillah,” she tweeted. Zargar was granted bail in the case in June last year. 

The Delhi Police did not oppose the high court's decision on humanitarian grounds as she was pregnant at that time.

Delhi University professor Apoorvanand, who was questioned by the Delhi Police in connection with the northeast Delhi riots in August last year, said the whole exercise "was to shield the real perpetrators".

"None of them should have been charged or arrested in the first place. All others must be freed. This whole exercise is a conspiracy to shield the real conspirators and perpetrators of the violence of Feb 2020 in Delhi. They are out and ruling us. Spreading hate, planning violence."

"This is something to celebrate. Natasha, Devangana and Asif Tanha have been granted bail. All others implicated falsely under the UAPA must be freed now," he tweeted.

JNU Students' Union (JNUSU) president Aishe Ghosh said all political prisoners should be released.

"Delhi HC grants bail to Asif Iqbal Tanha, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal in UAPA case. Release All Political Prisoners," she said on Twitter.

The Left-affiliated All India Students' Association (AISA) said, "Delhi HC frees Asif, Devangana & Natasha! Using UAPA to silence pro democracy student activists protesting against divisive #CAA_NRC_NPR law by Modi govt stands exposed," it tweeted.

The students' body also demanded the release of student activists Sharjeel Imam, Umar Khalid and others arrested under the UAPA.

Communal violence broke out in northeast Delhi on February 24 last year after violence between supporters of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and those opposing it spiralled out of control, leaving at least 53 people dead and around 200 injured.

Tanha had challenged a trial court order that dismissed his bail application on the grounds that he allegedly played an active role in the entire conspiracy with reasonable grounds for believing that the allegations were prima facie true.

Narwal and Kalita had challenged the trial court order that dismissed their bail pleas saying the allegations against them were prima facie true and provisions of the anti-terror law had been rightly invoked.

Jawaharlal Nehru University Students' Union (JNUSU) president Aishe Ghosh said all political prisoners should be released.

"Delhi HC grants bail to Asif Iqbal Tanha, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal in UAPA case. Release All Political Prisoners," she said on Twitter.

The Left-affiliated All India Students'' Association (AISA) tweeted, "Delhi HC frees Asif, Devangana & Natasha! Using UAPA to silence pro democracy student activists protesting against divisive #CAA_NRC_NPR law by Modi govt stands exposed."

The students' body also demanded the release of student activists Sharjeel Imam, Umar Khalid and others arrested under the UAPA.

Women's collective Pinjra Tod also welcomed the release of its members.

ALSO READ | A protest by college students doesn’t shake foundations of our nation: Delhi HC

"We celebrate and welcome the order that has provided immense relief to friends, family and comrades of Natasha and Devangana today. We hope that this will pave the way for the bail of others implicated under similar false conspiracy charges," it said in a statement.

While stating that the fight is "far from over" as there are still many others in jail, the group demanded that other also be released.

The Pinjra Tod group said that the bail order did not materialise on Tuesday since the bail surety was not verified by the court.

The Students' Islamic Organisation of India (SIO) also welcomed the bail order.

"The trio, along with others, was unjustly put behind bars over a year ago on false charges in an attempt to suppress the young leadership of anti-CAA movement and shift blame for the Delhi pogrom. We hope that this verdict will serve as a precedent in curbing the long and unjust incarceration of innocent persons under draconian laws," the body said.

Former Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising, senior advocate Geeta Luthra and activist lawyer Vrinda Grover hailed the verdict which said that in an anxiety to suppress dissent the State has blurred the line between right to protest and terrorist activity and if such a mindset gains traction, it would be a "sad day for democracy".

"The judgements restores the right of protest to its proper place," said Jaising while Luthra observed that the state has to ensure that laws which have been made to curb terrorism are not invoked so lightly.

Echoing the same view, Grover said bail orders are a scathing indictment of misuse of power and law by the state and its agencies.

The high court granted bail to JNU students -- Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal -- and Jamia Millia Islamia student Asif Iqbal Tanha, who were arrested under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in connection with a case of larger conspiracy related to the communal violence in north east Delhi during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act last year.

Lauding the judgements, which noted that the terror laws cannot be applied in a "cavalier manner," Grover said the order slices through the bogey of the state's case, which without a shred of evidence invoked UAPA and described it as a terrorist act, which in full public view were "non-violent assembly and protests in Delhi."

About the three separate verdicts in which the action of Delhi police came under severe criticism, she said that the state has repeatedly invoked the stringent anti-terror law against those challenging the policy and actions of the state and used criminal law to suppress fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of assembly, free speech and expression, and personal liberty.

"The High Court reaffirms the right to protest even on issues that are unpalatable to the state agenda. The Delhi High Court bail orders are a scathing indictment of misuse of power and law by the state and its agencies," Grover added.

Luthra said that the state has to ensure that laws which have been made to curb terrorism are not invoked so lightly.

"Unless we have people who differ in opinion, how will you make your democracy more vibrant?" she asked.

ALSO READ | North East Delhi riots conspiracy case: HC says legitimate dissent a key feature of democracy

Further, she opined that the struggle of human rights has been disbalanced between laws to protect the state and the rights of private individuals throughout the world but the judgement upheld human rights and liberty, which are citadel for democracy.

"It is a wonderful judgement. The more one lauds the judgements, the lesser it would be. What has been said in the judgement is also equally important that we should not protest for terrorist activity," she said, extolling the order of the court.

Jaising, also an activist lawyer, said that the judgement is an appropriate interpretation of the object and purpose of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and that it will benefit many of those charged Under that law.

"This government knows how to misuse laws to quash protests, which is a democratic right. The three judgements restores the right of protest to its proper place," Jaising said.

(With PTI Inputs)



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