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Freedom of Speech and Expression

This Act tells the public to not appreciate or endorse into false publications or portrayals which can harm the sovereignty of India.

Gayatri Sharma,  JIMS, School of Law, and Indraprastha University

“Tyranny cannot defeat the power of ideas” opined Helen Keller after the famous malevolent act of burning books written by not only Jewish but also Non-Jewish authors under the influence of Nazism. This event took place in Germany during the spring of 1933 where more than 25,000 thousand articles, books, write-ups or even pieces of papers containing simple quotes were thrown into fire which didn’t specifically go along the line of Nazi ideologies.

In India on April 20, 2020 there was an arrest of a journalist made by the local police of Jammu and Kashmir under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).  Cyber Police Station of Kashmir held that Zahra, a well-reputed journalist has posted incriminating content which are subject to ridicule and scrutiny in the eyes of the Government according to UAPA and Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Both the above incidents might differ in intensity of the state of affairs but are definitely identical with regard to the root of the situation. The basic outline of both the notions was the refusal to accept anyone’s real or original ideology which goes against their foremost authority. It would be interesting to note that expression of one’s ideologies is the fundamental notion of Democracy, so while in a Dictatorship when immobilization to freedom of speech and expression as in the scenario of Germany was criticized at a heavy scale, it will be worthy enough to record the activities of authorities going against the same freedom and that too in a Democracy. 

Freedom of Speech and Expression in India is one of the Fundamental Rights as mentioned in the Constitution under Article 19(1). In other words, every citizen of the country has the right to express one’s own conviction and code of beliefs in a healthy and respectful manner and which does not disturbs society at large. Hence, the question arises around that particular ambit which decides as to where the line of integrity and sovereignty is drawn and whether the administration that is marginalizing these lines is actually fulfilling the purposes of the hour for the citizens of the country or not.

UAPA against Freedom of Speech and Expression?

Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act describes ‘unlawful activities’ as those particular actions that can either be spoken or written which provokes the disaffection against the country or questions its integrity. The background of this Act tells the public to not appreciate or endorse into false publications or portrayals which can harm the sovereignty of India. If this is the case, then the Government has been conveniently overlooking some major actions of powerful political activists and has only confronted those civilians who have established just mere facts. 

Also Read: Rational freedom of Speech or Irrational Nationalism.

Section 39 of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act clearly expresses offence related to support given to a terrorist organization by any means and elaborates that whoever influences or invites support for any terrorist cell will be committing an offence, although the criteria as to which form of expression would be considered as provoking terrorism is not detailed.

A significant notion that Freedom of Speech and Expression has surrounded itself with is the liberty of Press to entertain the people with all the factual incidents and actions without regarding the intensity of harshness so as to engage the society to move forward in the right direction. In the State of Jammu and Kashmir, although press censorship and the immediate dissent of opinions shared by citizens have been the habitual conduct from a long time, but these habits found out a way of changing themselves after constant harassment to the media.

Along with Masrat Zahra, a determined photojournalist who had to face the Police brutality on the false grounds of UAPA as a consequence to a 19 month old post on her social media account, the reports of another journalist of The Hindu Newspaper, Peerzada Ashiq was issued a summons with an FIR. Another journalist and author, Gowhar Geelani was targeted for his expression of opinion with the charges of unlawful conduct on social media influencing and provoking territorial limitations.    

All these charges clearly mark the fail of the Fundamental Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression because well reputed adults with a scope of converting the patriarchal society and rejuvenating it into a more open and morally driven society was stopped by none other than the authorities whose job also lies around the same scope.

Social Media is a medium which is available to all and people can easily express themselves by way of publishing pictures, quotes, videos and many other creatively driven articulations. But unlike in the case of the many journalists who have been subject to police brutality for publishing unhealthy content on social media, there have been happenings just recently in fact, wherein the platform of social media was used by some group people which although might have not threatened the nations’ enemies but has surely put the reputation of the nation’s sovereignty and integrity into jeopardy. This group which everyone knows about goes by the name of ‘Boys Locker Room’ about which many interesting and unnerving details of the case has put another pedestal of focus to constitute cyber crime.

It is mentioned that the UAPA Act is focused on content which is in front of the eyes of the public and menaces the nation by provoking the enemies or terrorist groups but at the same time it also talks about the unlawful activities by the citizens which harms the sovereignty of public and harms the interest of society at large.

Earlier in the month of April, the Gadchiroli sessions court condemned G.N. Saibaba and other member of his groups to life imprisonment on the charges of their asserted links with a banned organization, CPI- Maoist. Apparently, the Freedom of Expression of G.N. Saibaba’s political beliefs was considered harmful and harsh by the Indian Government even though it was clearly mentioned by an earlier Supreme Court judgment in Indra Das v. State of Assam (2011) that “membership of a banned organization would not make a person criminally liable unless he resorts to violence or incites people to violence or creates public disorder by violence or incitement to violence”. This judgment was eventually overruled for the present case by the supremacy of UAPA with the involvement of other repealed Anti-Secession and Terror Laws like the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) and Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (POTA).

As a result to this inconsiderate step from the Indian Government, many Democratic organizations like CDRO and the Human Rights Watch has also concluded that UAPA (especially Section 39) is solely meant to fulfill the political agenda of an Anti-Maoist policies and with its explicit nature, a Freedom is provided but only to the officials who takes action against someone who has expressed their set of political beliefs. As a push to Operation Green Hunt, UAPA couldn’t have been used as a better front to mark the Government’s unsympathetic nature towards Naxals.

Conclusion 

If there was even a possibility that the attack on Taj Hotel in Mumbai, with the correct application of Cyber and Terrorist authorities could have been prevented would have resulted in pushing the arena of UAPA more. If the restrictions on Child pornography haven’t been made, then the crime rate would have risen. Different scenarios require different laws and in order to have peace and harmony in society, this difference should be understood by the Indian Government and right restrictions should be adopted to formulate correct rules.

This procedure will help in making sure that there is not a violation of any of the Fundamental Rights. Freedom of Speech and Expression comprises one of the core concepts in a Democracy which clearly embarks the certification for people to have their own belief system. As a result to this freedom, many cyber cases like Boys Locker Room shows the society that reasonable restriction under the ambit of Article 19 are valid but on the other side of the spectrum cases of journalist being unlawfully arrested for expressing themselves shows the society that Indian Government’s basic motto behind reasonable restrictions is to fulfill their own political agenda.

To make the nation from developing to a developed one, the UAPA’s current arenas should focus on detailed investigations before claiming anyone of a crime and to make themselves a criterion which can establish between the true essence of Freedom of Speech and Expression and an actual means to capture terrorism in India further fulfilling the ingredient of UAPA as a whole. Hence, with every list of merits and demerits a conclusion is must and it has been established as a fact that the inferences from the laws that UAPA covers are destroying the true essence of Democracy at a large scale which is too big of a demerit to keep.

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