Mere possession of Maoist pamphlets not a crime, says UAPA Authority chief
According to him, the case is now in the FIR stage and it will come up before the authority only after the charge sheet is filed and government refers the same to it.
KOCHI: The arrest of two students at Pantheerankavu in Kozhikode on charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) has drawn ire from various quarters, including ruling CPM leaders. In the wake of the row, state UAPA Authority chairman Justice (retired) P S Gopinathan says permission for prosecution would be granted only if there is strong evidence supporting the charges under the Act. According to him, the case is now in the FIR stage and it will come up before the authority only after the charge sheet is filed and government refers the same to it. Excerpts from an interview with TNIE:
Q. The two youths were arrested for alleged possession of pamphlets of banned CPI (Maoist). Do these charges come under the relevant sections of UAPA?
A. An FIR could not be lodged under UAPA for mere possession of pamphlets supporting Maoists. The CPI (Maoist) is a banned organisation in the country and its members could be booked under this law. An FIR should be prepared based on strong evidence which prima facie proves the charges. However, possessing Maoist pamphlets is not a crime. The High Court had pronounced a judgment in this regard earlier, but I cannot comment on this as the case is now pending before the Supreme Court.
Q. The government would only go by the authority’s recommendations and, in the current context, are there any chances of revoking the UAPA charges in this case?
A. Right now, this case is in the initial stage, which is filing of the FIR. The case will come up before the authority only when the government sends the report seeking its opinion after the draft of the charge sheet and the investigation officer’s opinion are filed. As per Section 45 (2) of UAPA, sanction for prosecution shall be given within a week only after considering the report of the authority, which shall make an independent and critical review of the evidence gathered.
Q. Can the police withdraw the charges under UAPA at this juncture?
A. The FIR is lodged after finding prima facie evidence against a person. If the investigation officer finds that the pieces of evidence are not strong to prove the charges under UAPA, police themselves can drop the case.
Q. How many cases have come up before the authority so far and what are the decisions taken?
A. After I assumed charges as the chairman in 2018, only 10 cases have come before the authority and permission for prosecution was denied for want of evidence in more than half of the cases. If the case lacks adequate evidence, we direct the police to conduct a further inquiry and collect stronger evidence.
Q. Is UAPA, alleged to be a draconian law, being misused in several incidents mainly due to political reasons?
A. I have no such opinion. The constitution of an independent body like the UAPA Authority is the right decision as no one could slap charges without solid evidence. The state government appointed the authority with a retired High Court judge as chairman and special secretaries of Law and Home departments and IG (Internal Security) as members for granting permission for prosecution.