The Supreme Court Wednesday asked the Tripura police not to initiate any coercive action against the lawyers and a journalist who were booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 for their “fact finding” report and tweets on the communal violence in the state.
A bench of Chief Justice of India N V Ramana, D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant also issued notice on the plea filed by Advocates Mukesh, member of People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Ansar Indori, Secretary, National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation and Newsclick journalist Shyam Meera Singh seeking quashing of the FIR against them and challenging the constitutionality of certain provisions of UAPA.
The petition contended that UAPA was invoked against the lawyers “to supress a fact finding report” released by them under the title “Humanity Under Attack in Tripura #Muslim Lives Matter” and against Meera “for merely tweeting “Tripura is burning”.”
They said the State’s effort was “to monopolize the flow of information and facts…from the affected areas by invoking” UAPA “against members of civil society including advocates and journalists who have made the effort to bring facts in relation to the targeted violence in the public domain”.
“If the State is allowed to criminalize the very act of fact finding and reporting -and that too under the stringent provisions of the UAPA in which anticipatory bail is barred and the idea of bail is a remote possibility- then the only facts that will come in the public domain are those that are convenient to the State due to the ‘chilling effect’ on the freedom of speech and expression of members of civil society”, it said.
The plea said that “if the quest for truth and reporting thereof itself is criminalized then the victim in the process is the idea of justice” and that “such circumstances strike at the very foundations of a participative democratic society as it curbs the ‘free flow of information and ideas’…”.
It also sought a direction declaring Sections 2(1)(o) read with Section 13 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, and Section 45(d)(5) of the Act as unconstitutional.
They said that the definition of ‘unlawful activities’ in the Act “prohibits an innocuous speech by threat of punishment…casts a ‘wide net’ on freedom of speech and expression and makes even possession of documentational literature, reporting of information, expression of ideas, thoughts, and discussions which are no threat to security of India and have no tendency to create public disorder punishable under Section 13 of the Act”.
The “overbroad language…leaves open the possibility that the person criticising measures of government or acts of public officials, might also come within the ambit…”, it said adding the definition “fails to define criminal offence with sufficient definiteness and is so ‘vague’ so as to make its application dependent solely on the discretion of police machinery”.
“The vagueness…; the ‘wide net’ that it casts on freedom of speech and expression; it’s tendency to bring within it’s fold mere criticism of government policies or actions…without any effect on public order or security, sovereignty and integrity of India; and it’s indiscriminate use…against those critical of the government in view of the absolute bar on anticipatory bail in Section 45(d)(4) of the act of 1967 and almost impossibility of securing bail under Section 45(d)(5) of the act of 1967, produces a ‘chilling effect’ on freedom of speech and expression and the sections read together are violative of Articles 14, 19(1)(a) & 21 of the Constitution…”, the plea contended.