Arrested under UAPA? If so, be prepared to languish in jail as undertrial

According to rights activists, over 100 prisoners across the country charged under the UAPA have been denied bail

Under ordinary circumstances, the reason for rejecting bail is that the accused may tamper or destroy evidence and threaten witnesses. But, in UAPA, only after investigation, the accused seek bail, says senior lawyer A Nowful

Several suspected Maoists charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) are languishing in jails for years waiting for their cases to be heard.

Marxist ideologue and rights activist Varavara Rao who was arrested along with 10 others has been in jail for about two years. Despite his ill health, he was denied bail for long as he was charged under the UAPA. Eventually, on Tuesday (June 14), he was shifted from jail to a hospital in Mumbai following a court order to this effect.

According to rights activists, over 100 prisoners across the country charged under the UAPA have been denied bail.

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“There are cases, where even after securing bail, the accused could not come out of the prison as there are complicated judicial process to produce the surety and execute the bond to get the accused released from prison,” said S Balamurugan, general secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL)

In 2015, Tamil Nadu Q branch police arrested five alleged Maoists — Roopesh, Shyna, Anoop, Veeramani and Kannan — in Coimbatore. Among the five, only Shyna managed to secure bail in as many as 16 cases against her. Of the remaining four, Veeramani is still in jail despite getting a bail order.

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Veeramani (69), who is facing about 16 cases most of which were for allegedly procuring SIM cards with fake identity papers, has secured bail. In one of the 16 cases that is pending in Erode, the Madras High Court insisted that only his parents should give surety for Veeramani.

But Veeramani’s parents had died a decade earlier,” said Sathyabalan, a lawyer appearing for Veeramani.

Sathyabalan approached the Madras High Court once again to modify the bail order. The court changed the order such that Veeramani’s elder brother’s son could sign and execute the bail bond.

“However, now because of the lockdown, Veeramani’s relative has not been able to get a travel pass from his native place to Erode to complete the procedures. His e-pass application was rejected at least five times,” said Sathyabalan.

According to Sathyabalan, it’s been over one year since Veeramani had secured bail in all the cases slapped against him and it’s been at least five years since he was incarcerated in Coimbatore Central Prison.

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In a similar case, Kerala police arrested suspected Maoist Danish Krishna (28), a native of Coimbatore, from Bhuthayur tribal settlement in Attappady in Kerala.

“He was also granted bail in all the cases slapped against him. However, we could not produce the surety because of the lockdown. Both the governments are not ready to approve the travel pass for the surety and the bail is getting delayed,” claimed Sathyabalan.

Shyna, who was released on bail a year ago, alleged that the purpose of the UAPA is to punish the accused even before the trial.

“At the time of arrest, the police threatened us that they would lodge us in jail for at least five years as they would invoke UAPA charges. Though the National Investigation Agency (NIA) or the prosecution argues against bail, stating that the UAPA bars granting bails, the law actually does not bar bail,” Shyna contended. She, however, conceded that it was not easy to secure bail under the stringent provisions of the UAPA.

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“If the provisions are stringent, the trial should also happen soon after arrest. Though there is a restriction on granting bail in UAPA, if the court believes that there is no prima facie case against the accused, bail could be granted. But courts prefer to complete the trial before coming to a conclusion.  Until then, prisoners may have to languish in jail for years without being tried. This is what is happening now,” Shyna said.

Shyna also pointed out how Dalit activist Angela Sontakke, who was accused of having links with Maoist organisations, was granted bail by the Supreme Court in 2016, five years after she was arrested.

In the SC bail order for Angela, the court mentioned that the “charges were serious but the seriousness of the charges will have to be balanced with certain other facts like the period of custody suffered and the likely period within which the trial can be expected to be completed”.

Senior lawyer A Nowful, who has been representing people charged under UAPA, said it was not necessary that bail had to be denied.

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“Under ordinary circumstances, the reason for rejecting bail is that the accused may tamper or destroy evidence and threaten witnesses. But, in UAPA, only after investigation, the accused seek bail. By that time the police would have had the chance to collect evidence, if any. And it is the only law where the accused or his counsel will not know who the witnesses are and what the statements of the witnesses are until the trial begins,” he said.

He said the UAPA was an unregulated law. “There are checks and balances in the National Security Act, or the Goondas Act. But, the UAPA is being misused,” Nowful alleged.

Retired High Court Justice K Chandru felt that there should be a review committee similar to the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

“Even this review committee and its responsibilities were brought in after much struggle and a prolonged legal battle.  Though people claimed that the Act bars the court from granting bail to people charged under UAPA, there are provisions to grant bail on medical grounds,” Chandru said.

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