UAPA- A threat to free speech?

 The Unlawful Actions (Prevention) Act of 1967 (UAPA) was enacted as an anti-terrorism statute in order to prevent such illegal activities from taking place and to protect India's sovereignty and integrity. It has been updated over time to ensure that it is effective and serves the core purpose of the act.

The UAPA has been changed several times to reflect evolving terrorism tactics, including as shifting the burden of proof and making extraterritorial arrests. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2019 (UAPA, 2019) deals with widening the term of "terrorist" to include individuals under Section 35 and 36 of Chapter VI of the Act. It gives the DG of the NIA the ability to seize property from proceeds of terrorism under Section 25 and officers with the level of inspector and above the power to examine cases under Section 43 of the UAPA. A Review Committee is also established to ‘denotify' the individual who has been notified as a terrorist.

The main criticisms of the Amendment centre on Section 35, which, in addition to categorising organisations as terrorist organisations, broadened the power to encompass the classification of people as terrorists. Second, the new Amendment is in violation of the idea of "innocent until proven guilty," as well as the 1967 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which acknowledges the principle as a universal human right. Third, it is being used to oppress rather than combat terrorism, because the amendment states that labelling someone a terrorist does not result in a conviction or punishment. 

Sajal Awasthi filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court against the UAPA, 2019, arguing that it is unconstitutional since it infringes basic fundamental rights. He said it violated Articles 14 (right to equality), 19 (right to freedom of speech and expression), and 21 (right to life) of the Indian Constitution by inadvertently restricting the right to dissent. Furthermore, it does not give the person accused of being a terrorist the opportunity to defend himself before being arrested.

UAPA allows the parliament to limit individuals' rights and freedoms in order to maintain India's "sovereignty and integrity." The amendment was introduced, according to the government, since it is individuals who commit terrorist attacks, and having merely the right to designate organisations as terrorist organisations would be useless because those persons might continue their operations under a different name. However, the question remains whether the parliament may categorise an individual as a terrorist simply because it feels he is implicated in terrorism without any sort of trial.

Individual members of the RSS were not detained just because they were members of the organisation, which was declared illegal under UAPA in 1992. In a speech in 1993, Vajpayee predicted that "the government would proclaim any opposition to be unlawful." The administration, on the other hand, maintains that it is acting in good faith and just wants to keep the country united in the face of existential dangers. As a result, it is apparent that this rule can be used against the opposition and that, under the guise of security, it challenges the very value of expression in a democracy.

The government has utilised draconian laws like sedition and criminal defamation to crush criticism on several occasions. These laws are ambiguously worded and too broad, and they have been used as political tools against opponents who have demonstrated a trend toward "thought crimes." Human rights have been degraded by the legislature in order to achieve the goals of this Act. In addition, the Amendment is against the mandates of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The above arguments have demonstrated how the amendment jeopardises citizens' fundamental rights and threatens the very survival of opposition.