Ludhiana based lawyer Jaspal Singh Manjhpur has first-hand experience in dealing with cases lodged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). He was booked under UAPA back in 2009, and was in jail for almost one and half years before being granted bail. He was acquitted in 2014.
Manjhpur was booked along with former militant Daljit Singh Bittu and five others. Till now, he has represented around 70 people booked under UAPA in different courts of Punjab. He has also made a tentative list of 64 cases under UAPA registered in Punjab in the last 11 years.
“There are more cases registered under UAPA in Punjab, which I may not know about. According to the list I prepared, at least 64 cases have been registered in Punjab under UAPA since 2007. More than 300 men and women have been put behind bars, and 99 per cent of them are Sikhs,” Manjhpur said.
“Of the 235 accused under UAPA on my list, 162 have been discharged or acquitted. There have been convictions in only three cases so far in the 64 FIRs. Two convicts were acquitted by higher courts. One accused is on bail with appeal pending in high court. The rest of the accused are still facing trial,” said the lawyer.
He further said, “Acquittal means that the accused must have spent at least a year behind bars and in most of the cases, upto seven years. Around 175 Sikh youths have been arrested under UAPA in the Capt Amarinder Singh regime. A total of 64 Sikh youths were arrested under the Act during the 10 years of SAD and BJP government.”
“Accused often are not implicated under UAPA to convict them, but to keep them in jail for a long period of time. If police claims that a pistol was recovered from a person and book him under the Arms Act only, the accused may walk out on bail after the first hearing. However, if the accused is booked under UAPA, he/she may have to live behind bars for years,” said the lawyer.
Out of the list of 64, there have been 40 FIRs, in which accused were booked under UAPA in the absence of any criminal occurrence.
“In most of the cases, the police tells court that the accused was planning to carry out some criminal activity and then uses UAPA to ensure that the person does not come out of jail on bail. Majority cases under UAPA have no criminal occurrence,” said Manjhpur.
Pal Singh France, who was booked in six different cases under UAPA and now stands acquitted in all, said, “Police told court that I was waging a war against the State. The judge asked the police officer about how many men, arms and resources I had to wage war against the State. Police officer was speechless. Next day the officer moved the same application to another judge to refuse me bail under UAPA”.
Ravinder Singh Rinku, is another such person who was booked under the UAPA. “I was booked in the Shingar bomb blast case. Police had hunted Sikh youths after the blast. I remained behind bars for seven years before being acquitted in the case in 2014. I was 31 years old at the time of arrest and used to drive a three-wheeler. My wife had to work as a daily labourer as I was in jail,” said Ravinder.
All the other main accused in the blast case too were acquitted by court of all charges.
Not on Manjhpur’s list is the case of Roffal alais Rahul. He was booked under sedition and UAPA in Amritsar in 2018 for his alleged relations with the US-based ‘Sikh for Justice’, before it was banned by India.
According to the FIR, no crime related to the sedition case was committed with the pistol allegedly recovered from Rahul.
Two pistols were recovered from him, of which one he had given to his friend Soni, who later died by suicide using that pistol in Batala. The suicide had no link with the ongoing case. The challan against Rahul has been already filed in court.
“It is yet to be investigated why Roffal was part of the nexus. It is yet to be investigated if the murder he was planing was linked to Referendum 2020 or not,” said investigating officer Palwinder Singh.
“Roffal is in jail due to UAPA. Otherwise he would have been booked under Arms Act only and should have been facing trial while remaining on bail,” said Kulwinder Kaur, lawyer, representing the accused in the case.
“The UAPA is now more dangerous that TADA and POTA. UAPA was strengthened much before POTA was revoked. There is urgent need for an open debate in Parliament and public over how UAPA has been used for harassment of youth from minority communities,” said Manjhpur.