UAPA Against Freedom of Speech And Expression
The term democracy is always prevalent in the country but it is not allowed to be moderately practiced. Following this term in the present situation of the country, leads us to being fined or jailed.
UAPA stands for Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act which aims to curb the unlawful activities happening in the country. The act prevents any unlawful activities against the sovereign of India.
Though this act has been created for the security of the state, many government officials take the power of the act too far and this in turn lead to violation of many human and fundamental rights guaranteed to an individual under the constitution of India.
Often books are banned, peaceful protests are tried to curbed, there is a censorship on artistic freedom and a person cannot express himself on social media as well because such type of things leads to the person being arrested under this act. Another important freedom which is curbed by this act is the freedom of press where notable journalists are arrested under this act for openly writing about the policies of the government of any other such issues. One of the issues where particularly this act is used is the Kashmir issue. Journalists trying to operate in Kashmir and reporting to the public are charged under sedition and other anti-national activities. This is a grave issue and needs to be resolved quickly.
Current scenario, rights violated and violative provisions
Since 2019, the act sparked a controversy regarding freedom of speech and expression. The constitution of India guarantees freedom of speech and expression and it cannot be taken away except for those circumstances mentioned in article 19(2). The government in the recent amendment has got the power under the pretext of curbing terrorism to take away anyone’s freedom of speech and expression and this is particularly happening in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the states where the Maoists population is prevalent like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh. It has been seen that the government rather than preserving a citizen’s right to free speech and expression is more violating it by curbing on them.
The most recent issue has arisen of use of section 39 of the UAPA which punishes a person for supporting terrorism activities anywhere in the country with a fine or an imprisonment sentence up to 10 year or both. With this provision, the government particularly in the state of Chhattisgarh is labeling innocent activists, journalists and other political groups as terrorists for merely ensuring constitutional protection to everyone in the society. These people cannot report freely or practice their right of free speech because then they are labeled as supporters of the Naxals and are charged under the section mentioned above.
The amended section 35 of the act directly curbs the freedom of free speech and expression as ensured in the article 19(1) of the constitution. The section says that the government of India can add any organization which it feels to be a terrorist organization under the UN charter under chapter 7. In this way, the government gets the power to curb their freedom of speech and expression.
Freedom of Press
Under the UAPA act, the freedom of press is also being violated and this is particularly happening in the state of Jammu and Kashmir where the insurgent activities are high. The government in this pretext gets a chance to label any journalist or local news channel as sympathetic to the terrorists and then there is a curb on their freedom. The press in this state particularly cannot freely practice journalism. The government many a times has blocked the internet and arrested many notable politicians under the pretext of terrorism and curbed their freedom of free speech and the independent journalists,who report such issues, are also not allowed to practice their profession. Many journalists if even tweet on social media are targeted under this act. The provisions of the act itself are so vast under all the sections that this makes all the journalists practicing their profession in the state vulnerable to the act.
The same things are being seen in the state of Chhattisgarh where the Maoists population is there in a large scale. The press over there as well is not allowed to report freely and whoever doing so is punished. The chief justice of the state has also issued statements regarding the same to the government stating that no innocent journalists who is practicing his right and trying to bring in light the current situation and violation of human rights should not be stopped from practicing free journalism.
The UAPA amendment allows the state to infringe the fundamental right of any person free speech, dignity, dissent and reputation. The government itself possessed discretionary powers to call anyone terrorist and the burden of proof to deny the allegations rests on the person and not government.
· PeerzadaAshiq a senior journalist in Jammu and Kashmir was summoned by the local police on 19 April, 2020 and was asked to explain his alleged factual inaccuracies in a story that was published the same day.
Masrat Zahra, an award-winning photojournalist from Srinagar, had also been allegedly accused of uploading anti-national posts on Facebook with criminal intentions to induce the youth” and booked under UAPA and Indian Penal Code on 20 April 2020.
Responding to this news it is clearly shows theattempts by the government to curb the right to freedom of speech and expression by intimidating the journalists using draconian laws such as UAPA and creates an atmosphere of fear and reprisal. The people of Kashmir have been facing fundamental rights restriction since August, 2019.
· On 11 April,2019 Uttar Pradesh police officer drove to Delhi in a black SUV to serve a notice to Varadarajan, the editor of The Wire to appear before UP police on 14th April.
IJU’s secretary general, Sabina Inderjit signed a statement saying how the FIR smacked vindictiveness and amount to a direct attack on press freedom, threat to freedom of speech and expression. The IJU has requested Iinformaion and Technology Minister Prakash Javadekar to step in and ensure the UPgovernment does not dissolve a key connection between itself and the people.
· The amendments made in 2019 are violative of article Articles 14, 19(1)(a) and 21of the Constitution and the legislature has no rights to take away fundamental rights of citizen as it is a part of basic structure of constitution.
· Initially only organizations were referred to as terrorist if they supported and financed certain terror activities but the recent changes in section 35 of the act gives government the freedom to call any individual a terrorist and the burden of proof also lies with the individual too prove his innocence. This section needs due attention and changes to fit in the laws.
· The government has been taking actions against the journalist and charging them as terrorist under UAPA for giving their opinions and criticizing the government. This action should be congested as it infringes the freedom of speech and expression.
The new amended UAPA, 2019 has certain provisions which do not fit this legal system of this country. This act has empowered the government to impose indirect restrictions on freedom of dissent in order to curb terrorist but the side effects of such provisions are affecting the free flow of ideas in the society. Many journalists are tried under this act and are forced to take down their opinions about certain controversial issues only because the government assumes that it would incite hatred without any evidence. The major effects can be seen in the state of Jammu and Kashmir where after the abrogation of article 370 the government had taken control over citizens fundamental rights and many citizens over there specially journalist are tried under UAPA and forced not to exercise their freedom of speech guaranteed by article 19(A) of the constitution.
 Shakirmir,” Use of UAPA against Journalists is Last Nail in Coffin for Press Freedom in Kashmir”, The Wire, 26 April, 2020.https://thewire.in/media/use-of-uapa-against-journalists-is-last-nail-in-coffin-for-press-freedom-in-kashmir
“Freedom of Expression and UAPA”, The Hoot, 2o May, 2020. http://asu.thehoot.org/media-freedom/freedom-of-expression-and-uapa-8468
“Unfreedom of press”, The India Express, 22 April, 2020. https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/editorials/unfreedom-of-press-6373053/
“Second plea in SC challenging amendments to UAPA Act”, The Economic Times, 24 August, 2019. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/second-plea-in-sc-challenging-amendments-to-uapa-act/articleshow/70817752.cms?from=mdr
“Petition filed in SC against UAPA”, The Hindu,18 August,2020. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/petition-filed-in-sc-against-uapa-act/article29120929.ece
 “India: Government must immediately stop intimidation of journalists in Jammu and Kashmir”, Amnesty International, 22 April 2020
 “UP Police books The Wire editor over ‘disreputable’ Twitter remarks on Yogi Adityanath; website’s founding editors call charges ‘politically motivated”, First Post, 2 April 2020. https://www.firstpost.com/india/uttar-pradesh-police-books-the-wire-editor-siddharth-varadarajan-over-disreputable-twitter-remarks-on-yogi-adityanath-8218021.html
 The unlawful activities prevention act, 2019, section 35, 39
Author Details: Aliasgar Challawala and Vedant Agarwal (NMIMS SOL, Mumbai)