Indian MPs asked to reject amendments to counter-terrorism act

A US-based rights body has asked the Indian parliamentarians to reject the proposed amendments to the country's counter-terrorism act, fearing this would lead to further misuse and human rights violations in India.

"(Indian) Parliament should call on the government to withdraw the amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 (UAPA), which is scheduled for a vote in India's upper house, the Rajya Sabha, on December 17, 2012," the Human Rights Watch said in a statement yesterday.

Lok Sabha has already passed the bill.

"While India has a responsibility to protect citizens from terror attacks, the counterterrorism law has long been abused to detain suspects for excessive periods, file charges on fabricated evidence, and ban organisations without due process of law," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"These amendments will make the law an even more dangerous tool in the hands of officials who seek to oppress peaceful critics and minority communities," Ganguly said.

Noting that the UAPA and counterterrorism laws preceding it have been widely misused to target political opponents, tribal groups, religious and ethnic minorities and Dalits, Human Rights Watch alleged that the proposed amendments expand the definition of the "person" who can be charged under the law to include "an association of persons or a body of individuals, whether incorporated or not".

Human Rights Watch expressed concern that this would allow the police to charge an individual merely on the grounds of contact with a suspect.

The amendment, increasing the period for which an association can be declared as unlawful from two years to five years, will allow the authorities to ban for a longer period an organisation it opposes, even though the organisation has not been found unlawful by a court, it said.

Stating that the amendments expands the definition of "terrorist act" to include acts that threaten the economic security of India and damage its monetary stability by production, smuggling, or circulation of "high quality" counterfeit currency, Human Rights Watch said these crimes are not recognised terrorism offences and are already covered by the Indian Penal Code.

Including them under a more stringent counterterrorism law seems intended to make obtaining bail more difficult and to allow for a longer pre-charge detention period, the rights body said.

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